We’re WOOF, a four-piece punk band comprising Sarah Brooks on guitar, Felix on bass, Steve on drums, and Monica on vocals. We started playing together a year ago and decided to take our set across the Midwest this summer. Our trip included Oklahoma City, Kansas City, Iowa City, Minneapolis (twice), Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati, and St. Louis. For all of us, it was our first time touring, despite being life-long rockers. Here’s an individual account for what tour was like for each of us.
STOLI RAZZ, NO ICE…
I spent the last 20 years playing in punk bands and the furthest any of them ever got to going on tour was playing one show in Austin in 2001. I wasn’t fully aware of how much work really went into building a tour. My bandmates really pulled through and made it happen. They booked us 12 shows in the dead heat of summer in the Midwest. Unfortunately, booking shows so late in the summer led to our first two getting cancelled. What do you do when your show in OKC gets cancelled? Well, you go book a room at the biggest gay resort in the Midwest, obviously. We made the best of our first night off and got a shitty room at the Habana Inn. Stevie and Felix cuddled up in their beds and relaxed to 50 Shades of Grey while Monica and I hit up the gayborhood, which consisted of four gay bars in a two-block radius. We started at the cowboy bar The Finishline and then hit up Tramps and then Phoenix Rising for a local drag show. This is where we threw most of our cash at the beautiful queens and Monica discovered her new favorite song, “One Kiss” by Calvin Harris. This song became a big part of our tour soundtrack after that. We drunkenly ended the night at Tramps for our nightcap, where we wound up hanging with some locals. One of them was extra sweet on Monica, and then she informed us that we looked like Jay and Silent Bob, and that should’ve been our cue to leave.
Our first show playing for all strangers was at Revolution Records, a little record shop in Kansas City. I couldn’t have asked for a warmer, more welcoming crowd of people. There weren’t many of us but the energy level was just perfect. We stayed with an old friend of Steve’s that night and I guess one of my favorite parts of this tour was seeing my bandmates reunite with their old buddies. I called it an early night and fell asleep on a broken sofa bed to the sounds of Animal Planet. Monica confessed to me that she didn’t care for cats much and it was upsetting; but I was too tired to argue. About two hours later I woke up to WrestleMania blaring on the TV and some dude had just made himself a spaghetti sandwich. The idea of beefy noodles smashed inside shitty white bread made me a little nauseous, as did the pillow I was sleeping on, which smelled like a butthole.
Our next stop was Iowa City where we played at a college punk bar called Gabe’s. College bros actually dug our music and we made a wad of cash that night. It was our first set in a while where I felt really close to my bandmates. We all seemed to feel extremely out of place but we really stuck together that night and our set was really fucking fun. We were put up by one of Felix’s buds that night. She took good care of us and fed us barbecue, and we all got a hot shower.
Minneapolis was the show I was looking forward to the most but I have to say that I think it was my least favorite. The city was beautiful and booming with trees and gardens everywhere, and they even have real bike lanes and the drivers actually respect their cyclists. I was in awe at how functional the city actually was. The food co-op we went to was so reasonably priced and their hot food bar was so on point. I walked out of there with a box of mushroom masala, beet salad, fresh kale chips, and a locally-brewed ginger cayenne kombucha that made me feel like I was glowing. It felt good to eat real food for a second. The people who put us up for the night were also sweethearts and the houses we played in were so gigantic and gorgeous with full basements, two to three stories, and huge porches. Minneapolis made me really happy—except for the crowd. I gotta say that in all my years of playing, I’ve never felt so uncomfortable playing for a group of people before. I know that we aren’t the best band to ever step foot in that basement and that our set isn’t always the tightest, but I felt like we really put ourselves out there and all we got in return was blank stares and a couple of people shaking their heads as if we didn’t make the cut or some shit. Well fuck you and your Marshall stack bro. I was over it but I did get to witness our new friend whip out her tits while doing a full split on the front porch, and Stevie swooned us all while singing Sinéad O’Connor’s version of “Nothing Compares 2 U” during karaoke.
Chicago was where I saw forced into femininity and was reminded why I play music again. Jill’s lyrics were similar to some of the things I’ve been thinking lately, but just watching her enter the room and act like a freak gave me goosebumps all over my body. She blew it out of the water like she normally does and her WOOF jokes were on fire! The rest of the show was kind of weird but we ate some good pizza and met some cool people. I was feeling the itch to go out again so this time Monica and I were accompanied by Stevie and we all went out to the gay clubs. Madonna’s birthday was being celebrated at Berlin so the three of us danced and Monica hit on some 20 year-olds and Stevie made out with some hot butch in the bathroom line. We wound up walking to the lake that night and it just felt so good to not be in a car or a basement for a little while. It also felt good to just be around other homosexuals for a couple hours and to get a breath away from the punk scene for a minute. Both environments can be suffocating at times, so I like an even mix of the two. Overall I had a blast and am excited to plan our next tour.
HERE COMES RHONDA…
I didn’t get to sleep more than an hour before we had to load the van at 5 a.m. to leave for tour. It was my first time going on the road with a band that I played in, so that meant that I had to be up all night imagining every possible scenario that could go wrong while touring during a MERCURY RETROGRADE. Everyone who has toured has some of those stories under their belt—the pitfalls of sharing insanely tight quarters with folks who also double as some of your closest friends, general car mishaps, someone’s mental health taking a sudden and inopportune flip, the show getting canceled, “surprise, that was angel dust,” food poisoning from a delightful truck-stop meat oddity, “I think that sleeping bag I borrowed may have given me scabies,” everyone’s equipment mysteriously short-circuiting (then permanently breaking), etc. Luckily, my life is always in retrograde!
Aside from the tour mishap roulette, I was mostly nervous wondering if my chronic pain would have a nasty flare up and I wouldn’t be able to finish tour, or would have to be medicated to a point of sloppy incoherence to deal with all of the driving, moving gear, playing, and socializing with new strangers every night. On bad pain days I can’t even pick up my bass or do some of the most basic things. Gruesome reverberations of pain radiating down my spine turn me into a shell of myself and the idea of sitting in a van while driving across the country with my bandmates who are also nursing hangovers and battling low serotonin levels everyday seemed like a real shit situation. Luckily, I didn’t have a pain flare up on tour until the last day! Part of me felt like the adrenaline rush of being on the move and playing a set every night was what helped my body not slip into that familiar unrelenting cycle of misery. It also might have been the copious amounts of CBD and red-vein kratom, too.
The drive to OKC was exciting even though I was on no sleep and no aids to stay awake. Dallas is one of the most boring cities I’ve ever driven through. Our shows fell through in Austin and OKC but our friends had suggested we check out this “Gay Resort.” We arrived early evening to a grim industrial part of town that had a row of different-themed gay bars: a leather one, a Western cowboy one, one for all types of queens. I didn’t see a dyke one but I’d like to imagine that was there too. The resort, though, looked more like a seedy motel, except this one was special. One guy in the parking lot walked by with duct tape around his ankles, if ya catch my drift. Our room didn’t lock and smelled like an array of sweat and poppers. It was nostalgic to my teen heart to smoke cigarettes in a hotel room where every surface felt like the floor of a movie theatre. Once we carried all the gear in, Manika and Sarah wanted to go explore the bars but Steve and I were exhausted from all of the driving and stayed in the hotel room smoking and evilly cackling at the variety of channels DirecTV had to offer. She bullied me into watching Fifty Shades of Grey; and while every part of that movie was an ABSOLUTE TRASH depiction of how a D/S relationship should function, I got surprisingly SUPER turned on at the part when the male “dominant” braided his submissive’s hair. I didn’t think hair braiding could be a hard hitter for me, but thanks to that god-awful movie I now seem to understand myself a little better.
Our first set of tour at Revolution Records in Kansas City went well even though it was so dark I could barely see my fretboard. It was the perfect first show of tour. There’s something so vulnerable about playing for a group of people that aren’t your friends or in your direct community. If people dance it’s because they are connecting with what you are presenting, not because of the blind support and optimism that the in-town solidarity of your scene offers. We didn’t really know anyone but people danced and were excited. We got great feedback. I loved PRÜDE’s set; they were one of my favorite hardcore bands we played with on tour. I passed out that night on a mattress in the dining room of KUM & GO, cluttered with a crazy amount of random shit all around me. In the middle of the night, Steve woke me up by rubbing my arm (attempting to ask for the car keys). She was wearing baggy masculine clothes and had a baseball hat pulled low over her face. I was incoherent and it was super dark, so I didn’t recognize her and assumed she was the shitty DIS-ROCKER who was trying to bother me for sex earlier in the evening. My sleep defense mechanism was to immediately knock her in the face and yell, “NO!” She fell back and was stunned for a sec but then started laughing. Stunned myself, I then realized what I did and started profusely apologizing. She wasn’t mad at me and I didn’t hurt her too bad. She hugged me tight and whispered, “I’m just glad that you can take care of yourself.”
Steve and I had this character develop throughout the course of tour that sounds like Marge Simpson’s sisters after 60 years of smoking Capri menthols… She says things that are nasty in a drunk, endearing wasted-haggard-aunt fashion. She reminds me of a combination of three women: my Aunt Donna (from Jersey), the lady that bartended at the first strip club I worked at on Bourbon Street, and my favorite waitress at the Dot’s Diner on Jeff Highway. At any opportunity we would all yell at each other and communicate needs using that gnarly old spinster’s voice. TBH Rhonda (the name of our character) was less of a joke and way more of a self-fulfilling prophecy of my own aging process…
Iowa City was definitely our worst set of tour but also one of my favorite shows. Beyond Peace (great hardcore, check them out) was on tour overseas, so I hit up my good friends that are in a pop-punk band there to help us book the show. As a result we were put on a lineup with two pop-punk bands! We’ve never played with any pop-punk bands in the past so the concept was already a running joke between us. I’m all for an eclectic line-up but putting some noise-damaged hardcore played by a bunch of angry bitches in the middle of a melodic-optimist-suburban-frolicking-harmonizing frenzy of “whoas” can be an interesting-leaning-awkward interaction of punk. (I love my pop-punk friends, the genre just never happened for me.) We had a band meeting in the car prior in the parking garage across the street to help us push out our set more efficiently, because the fresh-faced pop-punk crowd was just making us all feel a bit off. By the time we were onstage, the “band meeting” was making me grind my teeth and grimace all crazy and during our set the freshly groomed people were standing around looking confused and shocked by us. It was funny, though; we looked scary and all kept laughing antagonistically and teasingly smiling at each other. How else do you play for a blank-faced leaning-disgusted crowd like that when you know you’re probably just a bunch of fucking freaks to them? We sold some shirts though, LOL.
One really funny thing about being in a band with other women is that after you play any show there’s usually that one guy that just wants to hang out at the merch table and blow smoke up your ass about how much he loved your set. He goes on and on, buys all of your merch (which is rad! Thank you!) but then slyly asks if you have a place to stay that night. The “So… where are you guys crashing?” question is key. When people tell us that they like us I can read sincerity but when it’s this pushing, repeating fashion and the manipulative vibes go off… I know the compliments are being used with obvious groin-wetting intent. He skillfully buttered up Manika by saying she reminded him of Corey Taylor from Slipknot and couldn’t stop harping about how into it he was. Slipknot reigns from Iowa so the Corey Taylor comment was really the shining medallion of all local scene endorsements we could have received! He kept on blurbin’ but at that point the grimacing “band meeting” had worn off and I just wanted him to go TF away from the merch table. LOL BYE.
On the topic of gendered and sexual dynamics at shows though, it’s weird being in this space as a femme-passing person where you can never escape being sexualized for being a femme that plays music in a masculine-dominated genre. Also, it’s fucking frustrating feeling like your gender is so definitive of your band in the eyes of others, even when it isn’t some deeply definitive characteristic for you personally, or even broader it doesn’t act as the point of axis for song production or general direction of content! Being femme-presenting is definitely a lived experience in terms of how people treat me but it’s not a strong foundational element of my character or centric to my core sense of self. I love supporting other femme folks playing music and appreciate getting booked on diverse lineups, but I hate getting grouped with other genres based on how others perceive my sexuality or gender presentation! It’s SO boring and just fucking lazy.
the adrenaline rush of being on the move and playing a set every night was what helped my body not slip into that familiar unrelenting cycle of misery.
Chicago happened and Jill Lloyd Flanagan was hands down my favorite erratic weirdo we got to hang out with during tour. Her set forced into femininity was a chaotic visual and audio experimental performance that delved into the socialization process of the gendered body and its implications with navigating family life and other societal layers. Her performance pummeled into this stream of nihilism and disillusionment of bodily identity that was shrouded in lawless noise, echoing strife, and frantic screaming laughter from a madness that was all too deeply relatable. She wore this scary ripped and disheveled pink prom dress with other detachable body parts tied on and contorting her figure. Her face was hidden by a deformed papier-mâché mask while she wailed into a microphone connected to an assortment of pedals and various other noise manipulators. Superb and raw, and just weird! 10/10, would def watch again, several times.
Also in Chicago, I ate a fried duck face covered in a savory sweet chili sauce with a large bowl of wonton soup on the side, at A Place by Damao. The duck face was delicious and one of the most distinct and texturally diverse foods I’ve eaten. The dish was the perfect blend of crispy, tender, and spicy with yummy sweet overtones. I’m salivating as I write this. I’d go back to Chicago just to eat there. Their Instagram @BYDAMAO has some very interesting videos of how they prepare pig brains and other Szechuan delicacies.
I’d write a nice synopsis of our two shows in Minneapolis because those were two of my favorite nights of tour but they’re also pretty blurry so I’ll just say that they were spectacular. I was a special shade of something and climbing on things, seeing old friends (I lived there for a summer the year before so I had tons of catching up to do), yelled a Huey Lewis and the News song on karaoke with my friend Asher, and passed out on a wet mattress in the basement of Disgraceland. I also spent all of my tour money at Extreme Noise, a purchase that included some LPs, a few buttons, and a pair of Disclose sweatpants. (I opted out of the Totalitär gym shorts).
I had never visited Detroit prior to us touring there. My main focus initially was to get John Brannon (who sang for Negative Approach) to come to our show. I slid into his DMs a few times on Instagram before getting into town; and after no response, Steve and I sent him a video of us yelling at him to come. The messages still haven’t been marked as “seen,” yet he’s posted on his account since then. FUCK YOU, JOHN BRANNON! You elitist fuck! You missed the best set of tour!
As far as all of those anxieties that were floating around my head before we left for tour: one of us did have to go to urgent care for strep throat on the first day, and both me and Sarah’s pedals shorted out and needed fresh batteries. All in all, it was such a rad and enriching low-stress/high-fun tour of the Midwest that reset my love for punk and its DIY ethos!
RETURN TO THE KORN…
Leaving New Orleans is always the same for me: in a rush to slow down. I started tour with a prescription for steroids and a Z-pack, and the reassurance of the doc getting me ready for the big game. A nice parting gift to crack it off. I was juiced the whole time. Between various band meetings and other performance-enhancing activities, I couldn’t tell if the juice was real or inside my head. Being exposed to so many different people at once put me in a fugue state where I simultaneously soaked up my environment, smelling each new smell, drinking alone when I do my inspections, and interacting with a lot of solid/inspiring people. I had my zoot suit on, ready to party. I was being a real fun guy with lots to offer. I haven’t felt so close with each member of the band as I do now. We all floated in our own muck, on our own terms.
There were interactions with people at almost every show where they would bring up their own apathy with going out or with participating in punk/countercultures anymore. I would ask each person their reason and it was a similar response: shows are milder because of constant heroin O.D. in the community. I felt that truth overshadow my excitement, like it set the tone for me.
Our Last show on tour was in St. Louis at Bonerville with G.N.A.T. and Body Leash. I grew up going to that house, 13 years of memories buried in those walls. My close friend Travis died of fentanyl O.D. in that house two springs ago. Since Cheeto head came into office, and even a couple years prior, communities have been chipped away by heroin. Getting home and writing this was hard because I let my mind wander and think back in time and say all their names in my head, and the accounts of others’ sorrows that burned into my head.
I feel like nihilism is easier than confronting grief.
I could see the resilience of my friends who are from the interior, the corn heartland. I could also sense a darkness that would shroud rooms. People on their phones dissociating (new) or someone getting hell hammered, punishing someone with a surface conversation (old). But we were all collectively screaming inside. I suppose that’s what being from the Midwest means for me.
So anyways, here’s some highlights of tour:
Finding out Sarah wasn’t a guitar player.
BIG shout out to Habana Inn.
To all the sex: ya’ll were great.
THX Teener and forced into femininity, both really inspiring visceral experiences.
S/O to Taco Bell Cantina in Chicago: sorry I missed ya this trip. I was busy.
Rhonda in real life at Simple Pleasures sex shop in St. Louis. They got a 50 whippit special for $20.
BABY’S FIRST TOUR…
…And first band. At age 32 I was finally living my fantasy of fronting a punk band and we were off to tour the Midwest. It’s never too late to start a shitty punk band, right?
Our first two shows got cancelled so we stopped in Oklahoma City at the Habana Inn, “The Southwest’s Largest Gay Resort.” Here, Brooks and I began our tour bender at the strip of gay bars where we watched some great drag performances and later got called Jay and Silent Bob by a woman who was trying to hit on me. FYI, really bad pick-up line!
Our first show was at Revolution Records in Kansas City, a small shop with a warm welcome. It was our first time playing outside of New Orleans for strangers and I was nervous. I opted to wear my baggy jumpsuit over my red leopard print booty shorts. I felt the need to limit any objectification because if they were going to like us I wanted them to like us for our music, not our looks. Guys have come up to us before and said things like, “when y’all were setting up I didn’t know what to expect but that was great!” Not like the jumpsuit was going to eliminate that bias but I felt more confident in it. I wore it all but two shows. I even got called Corey Taylor in Iowa City, which from an Iowan is a sincere compliment.
By the third night I had a meltdown. We played in a full MLPS basement, a local band played before us and drunken karaoke was headlining. I had lots of nervous energy and I was ready to give and really needed something back from that show, but of course you don’t always get what you need. Maybe it wasn’t our best set, but we played hard and with energy despite that. It didn’t seem to be enough, though, and as I tried to connect with the crowd, among a few bobbing heads there were mostly listless eyes staring right through me and completely averting eye contact. I became unexplainably so tired and mad that by the end of a 15-minute set I barely had the breath to finish. Afterwards, I sat at the merch table to collect myself while lots of strangers came up to share that they thought our set was amazing, or something along those lines. I was confused. And it made me ask a recurring question: why didn’t it feel like people were present during a set they said they enjoyed so much? I don’t think they were lying because it would have been easier to just say nothing, but I still didn’t get it.
I know there are lots of intangible variables that go into the energy of a punk show, but I guess I’m wondering why it feels rare these days to go to a show where even five people dance or don’t look like they are extremely bored for a band they apparently really like? Punk shows are a space where bands and audience together create community for us to express ourselves and have an outlet to escape from reality, and when we find ourselves tripped up on the floor, four grimy hands are magically lifting us back to our feet. Now, New Orleans has been in need of a new DIY venue for too long now (we are working on it!). So, I thought maybe this passiveness is just a symptom of New Orleans, that we don’t have a place of our own, on top of aging, sobriety, responsibilities, injuries, and losing too many friends to drugs and violence—but it’s an epidemic! And I don’t think it has to do with age because there were plenty of 21 year-olds I know were at the shows because I was accidentally hitting on them like a creep.
The Internet has to be at the root of this illness; I don’t know how else to explain it. We’ve become such passive participants in punk. We have learned it’s acceptable to be a disassociated observer and to participate behind a screen where it’s safe. I don’t want to perform for your iPhone, I want to look into your eyes! I want us to be so present we forget to pull our phones out. Our attention spans were already shit and studies show they are now even shorter. It’s a wonder any of us can even get through a full set! We’re constantly flooded with image after image of what mainstream approval looks like and blinded by our own narcissism. We have grown accustomed to being reserved and not having to be responsive physically or emotionally, when we are able. Did we forget how to lose ourselves at the punk show outside of the world inside those little screens? I am guilty of this too. Let’s all throw our phones in the Mississippi. KILL YOUR PHONE!
By the end of tour I was a kind of tired I hadn’t known before and I had to peel the jumpsuit off myself that smelled of ashtray mixed with the slime of bar and basement floors I’d crawled on. Maybe I am too late in the game or this is just what it’s like to play a show every night. I dunno, but I’d do it all again—don’t let my cynical ass fool you. I have a newfound respect for bands that tour and am so, so grateful for all the shows we got to play—especially in Detroit where the freaks came out, threw down hard, and literally swung from the rafters—and for all the hard work the rest of WOOF put in!
For more info, check out woofno.bandcamp.com.