What Keeps Us Moving: a BAD OPERATION Tour Diary

BAD OPERATION is a NEW TONE ska band from New Orleans. Most often, the members of BAD OP are Brian Pretus, Daniel “D-Ray” Ray, Dominic Minix, Greg Rodrigue, and Robert Landry. Recently, the band has expanded to sometimes include Brittany Luna, Emily Williams, and Jeremy “Jer” Hunter. We recently embarked on a portion of the Bad Time Records (BTR) tour: an eight-day, six-show run that spanned from New Orleans to Orlando to the Northeast with our label mates, Catbite, Kill Lincoln (KL), and We Are The Union (WATU). The tour was filmed for an upcoming documentary, THIS IS NEW TONE. The “I” in this tour diary is D-Ray but it certainly was not written without the help and guidance of all five members, as well as some members of the other touring bands.

Day 1
We left New Orleans at 2 p.m. all riding the adrenaline from Community RecordsBlock Party at Tipitina’s the night before—but also running on one to five hours of sleep. Fascinating choice to throw an all-day music festival (plus a preshow the night before) the day before you leave on an eight-day tour, but we can easily say it was the most personally enjoyable Block Party in our 15 years of running Community Records, and it was one hell of a tour kickoff show. All 18 bands that graced the stages this year were incredible and brought something unique to their audience. Some were seeing one of their current or new favorite bands for the first time. Others were getting a healthy dose of nostalgia watching Caddywhompus and Fatter Than Albert (FTA) reunite.

We spent an hour and a half in the unusually hot June afternoon unloading Block Party from the van and repacking for tour. Shout out to Bryan Funck and Thou for always graciously letting us borrow their van. We live to serve. Deliriously, we drove all day to a hotel in Gainesville. Made a couple stops along the way that may or may not have included a famous capitalist beaver. Another stop at a closed gas station with a very friendly child casting a line for parking lot fish. “They’re closed!” echoed in eagerness from a blue sedan. The child’s red and yellow Fisher-Price fish dragged across the concrete as the parents waved hello. We thanked them and drove to the next stop before making it to our first of many hotels.

Day 2
Feeling very well-rested after a good night’s sleep and a surprisingly nutritious and fulfilling complimentary breakfast. Dominic and I spent the morning talking about addiction, impermanence, interdependence, trauma, detachment, the constant energy or entity that witnesses all our daily impermanent occurrences, and inevitably how what we do with BAD OP relates to all that. This idea that people have a perception of us as individuals and our band that really has nothing to do with how we view ourselves and our art. We pinch off a small part of each of our souls and send it off into the wind. It gets picked up by someone else and reflected back onto us in a different form than it originally left us. We try to see that reflection and see how it changed them, what it did for them, and observe how it shapes us when it bounces back.

We did some quick yoga to wake up the body and mind then the others joined us downstairs to talk about Pogs and sleepovers when we were kids, the friends who made it and those who didn’t, our first experience of adults not listening to our needs, and how we’re so thankful to be alive and present.

Our first show was at The Social, in Orlando, on a Monday in June, but it felt more like a Saturday at FEST. The entire room was packed by the time we took the stage a half-hour after doors. Line around the block. Unreal. When we walked onto the stage, the room erupted in cheers. We couldn’t believe it. The whole set, the crowd was dancing and singing along. Dom does the NEW TONE chant before “What Keeps Us Moving” each night: “When I say this is, you say NEW TONE. This is…” It was shocking the response that came back. So loud. So hyped. The night only got more and more filled with stage dives and cheers of “fuck Ron DeSantis.” During WATU’s set, their vocalist-guitar player, Reade Wolcott, offered some words to Ron DeSantis as a trans person traveling through Florida: “I used lots of bathrooms today on the way to the show and ya know what? No one fucking cared. No one fucking cares! Except pieces of shit like you. We know it’s not Florida. It’s politicians trying to create an environment of fear to get the votes.”

It was also Reade’s birthday! So the other members of WATU surprised her by inviting all the horn players onstage for a rendition of “Happy Birthday.” At load out, everyone was treated to very delicious cupcakes from Cold Stone Creamery compliments of Rae, the videographer of the documentary.

clockwise from left: Dominic Minix, D-Ray, Robert Landry, Brian Pretus, and Greg Rodrigue at Underground Arts in Philadelphia.

Day 3

Woke up and FaceTimed with Aisa (my partner) and Grif (our son) before work and daycare. Certainly the hardest part about tour is leaving our families in New Orleans. Literally missed Grif’s first steps, hours after we left, which is a total bummer, but I’m just grateful I’m alive to feel that tinge of sadness of missing something so precious. The hugest of huge shout-outs to our partners and families for being down to let us do what we do.

Me, Dom, and Greg hit the hotel fitness room for some BAD OP yoga and then took a dip in the pool. Saved a bee from a chlorine death and as it flew off, hoped it would be the crucial soul that tipped us back off our own death via global warming. Meanwhile, I’m basking in that same sun, thinking of summers as a kid in south Louisiana, swimming with the beetles and water bugs, all the summers spent touring with All People in the veggie oil van and just feeling absolutely beside myself with gratitude and pride for what all our hard work and dedicated support from people has brought us.

It was a drive day so we stopped for a nice family sit-down lunch at a killer Mexican restaurant, La Campana. Greg and Dom got these gnarly whole fish plates that had us all envious. We also stopped for dinner at Cook Out. I ate a pile of Cajun fries topped with a can of mustard sardines and an onion ring garnish, ‘cause I’m a goblin and my frail arthritic body needs protein with my fried vegetables.

Day 4
I woke up early to get an oil change on the van then we hit the road for our 2 p.m. load in at Union Stage in DC. As is tradition, we listened to Fugazi as we made our way to the capital, especially feeling the crushing reality of global warming as we drove through the haze from the Canadian wildfires raging to the north.

It’s hard to find words to describe the show. It was a sold out, 500-cap room on a Wednesday full of people overly stoked to see every band. One of the bartenders was wearing a Snake and Jake’s T so we took that as a “good” omen… or at least an omen. Fun fact: Apparently, there’s some loophole in DC that allows you to legally have psilocybin mushrooms. You have to buy a sticker for like $60 then they “gift” you Albino Penis Envy chocolates. Allegedly. 🌝

Lots of folks were not only seeing these bands for the first time but for lots of them it was their first ska show ever. I catered all of our walk-on music to the city we were in each night, so naturally, we walked on to The Exorcist theme. From the moment I cut the sample, the room was filled with cheers and joy. Lots of dancing, singing, stage diving, crowdsurfing, circle pitting—just wild dream state shit for anyone who’s ever been in a band.

All the bands had moments in their sets where members from the other bands on the tour jumped onstage, and every day those moments grew in number. We had Jer and Emily from WATU/Skatune Network playing trombone and sax with us this whole run, Brit from Catbite sang a couple songs with us and during our last song, “Bagel Rooks,” Kenny and Ben from Catbite played organ and bass so Greg and I could crowdsurf and dance. I love that our band has become this open canvas for others to join. Jer and Em came in clutch, covering horn and organ parts when I couldn’t play Punk Rock Bowling in Vegas. Not to mention, they’ve both been huge supporters of our band since the beginning. They’ll be joining us in September for our California dates and Supernova Ska Fest and I’m sure many more times in the future. Brit will also be singing for BAD OP on those California dates while Dominic is out of the country.

Kill Lincoln claims DC as one of their many homes so their set was especially unhinged. Their trombone player Yasitaka “Ume” Umemoto does this thing any night he can find a 6’ step ladder in the venue, where he sets it up in the middle of the dance floor, gets a circle pit going while he’s playing the horn line, and then dives off the ladder into the crowd. For their encore, they called the whole Bad Time Tour onto stage for their cover of Operation Ivy’s “Knowledge.” Unhinged joyous chaos might come close to explaining that minute and 40 seconds that felt more like a lifetime.

My favorite moment of the evening: One of those first time crowd members, Angie, made one-of-a-kind vibrant bead bracelets for every member of BAD OP and WATU. Some spelled the band name, our personal names, our gender identity and sexual orientation, as well as smilies and alien beads.

Day 5
Woke up to thicker smoke haze and the realization that someone took our wet clothes out of the coin-operated dryer and put them in a damp wad on top of the damn machine. Thought about taking their clothes out and using up the rest of their dryer time and leaving a dollar in quarters. Ended up just waiting until their clothes were done, folding them, and placing them nicely on top of the dryer.

We played at House of Independents in Asbury Park, New Jersey tonight. Real sick, packed show with 400+ people in a huge brick warehouse-size room, complete with a second floor balcony. Huge shout out to Bex from Joystick for hanging out and offering to watch our merch table all night. Thirsty Guys hopped on this show, which was dope cause we’ve known most of those members for years through FTA touring with their other band, The Best of the Worst. Midway through WATU’s set, Brandon’s bass strap broke off his guitar. It had been held on by wood screws for 15 years until that moment. BAD OP’s Brian saved the day by jumping onstage and duct taping it back on without Brandon missing a beat. WATU did an encore of Operation Ivy’s “Sound System” so we had another Bad Time dance party onstage. It’s funny and also makes total sense that all the bands had OP IVY covers at the ready with no prior discussion.

Best part by far was the all ages representation. There was one kid who looked around the age of 8 that hopped up onstage during soundcheck and sat down right next to Dominic and gave him a hug. They were right up front or onstage dancing in front of me the whole set. Right after we finished, I crouched down and met them, another young kid around 13 who plays trombone, and their parents. We all exchanged endless thanks to each other and took a picture together. Through tear-filled eyes and a choked-up voice, I told them how much it meant to me they were there and how much it made me miss my family back home. Honestly, seeing shit like that reminds me why we started climbing this mountain decades ago and still continue, despite the hurdles.

One of the most notable events at this stop also involved pizza, which happens more often than not, it seems. Rob and I walked down to a place called Killer Pies for a slice and found some Jersey hospitality as well as some of the best pizza we’ve ever had. The owner Adam was super kind and BS’d pizza with us while we waited for the slices. He said he had some corporate job that made him hate his life, so he quit and went to work in Michelin star restaurants to learn how to open his own pizza spot. The place felt legit but also like someone knew how to keep a kitchen clean and organized. When he found out we were a band from New Orleans, he told us to come back after the show for some free pizza. We thought we were getting the old slices from the day but he made us two fresh 18” pies for free. As we were walking out the door, Adam told us one of his favorite spots in the city is Verti Marte, so you know he’s legit.

Jer Hunter crowdsurfs at the Crystal Ballroom in Boston.

Day 6
The Crystal Ballroom in Boston looks exactly as the name sounds: beautiful wedding venue—seemingly way too nice for a NEW TONE ska show. It’s attached to the historic Somerville Theatre which is a super old, badass (definitely haunted) movie theater in Davis Square. Davis Square looks like something out of a movie. Beautiful old buildings, table seating in the street outside restaurants and cafes, gorgeous landscaping with a park right across the street from the venue. It feels new without feeling plastic and fake. It makes me want nice things for New Orleans, but the kind of nice that feels authentic.

We met Joe Gittleman from The Mighty Mighty Bosstones in person, finally, after releasing a split with him in June. What a kind, kind soul and a gem of a songwriter. I consider us all lucky to be able to hear the songs that come from his spirit. This is the person who penned “The Impression That I Get” and “Lean On Sheena” [originally recorded by Avoid One Thing and later covered by The Bouncing Souls], just to name a few. Joe is a living legend in our minds and to put out a record with him, have him come to the show and hang out the entire time, and chat with folks after the show was unreal.

The staff at Crystal Ballroom was a DREAM. Everyone working at the venue was just down-to-earth kind the whole night. We sold it out at 500 people and Boston showed the fuck up. Local Bostonians and label mates The Pomps opened the show to a packed house. Their singer Alex is also in Big D and the Kids Table and Westbound Train.

This was one of our best sets as a band. Everything was just lined up perfectly. From the moment we walked out to “Rock & Roll Band” by the band Boston, in Boston (I know, you don’t have to tell me I’m cheesy), the crowd was with us. I mean, the room was just vibrating with voices and energy. The stage was too high to hop onto the floor for their usual dance party with the crowd, so Jer and Emily learned the organ melody to “Kinda Together” and blew all of our minds with a harmonized horn line that previously hadn’t been part of the song. That being said, the stage was a perfect height for stage diving and there was an exceptional amount of that during the set. Thank you so much, Boston. We can still hear your roar.

After our set, Rob watched Asteroid City at the Somerville Theatre and could hear the show during the quietest moments of the movie. Brian helped Brandon permanently fix his neck strap. Ume from Kill Lincoln might’ve broken the record for “longest distance crowdsurfed” by jumping off a table in the back of the venue and being passed all the way back to the stage, which included going over an arm rail and down a four-step decline into a pit area. Catbite played last and invited the tour onstage for the OP IVY encore, per usual. So much chaos, so much stage diving, so many hugs and high fives. It fills me with so much joy to see so many smiles fill a room.

It’s really intense and inspiring and validating to see the lives we’ve touched in front of our eyes. To have people in tears telling us how all of our music has gotten them through some of the toughest times a human can imagine, when no one else was there for them, is all I’ve ever wanted. I truly don’t give a shit how many people are at our shows or buy our t-shirts or listen to our music. I just want to be there for people like this music was there for me when I felt there was no one around to understand me. We have been working our entire lives to build a loving, inclusive community and this week showed us the fruits of our labor in such a big way. “There is no better place to learn the art of loving than in community.” —bell hooks.

The five of us stayed up until 3 a.m. talking about the future of BAD OP. I’m so thankful for the conversations we have as friends and creators. There is much intention that goes into everything we do, but not in a way that feels contrived. More often than not, everyone has a platform to put forth ideas and that’s how we find the one that resonates best with all of us. It’s a balance of recognizing the impact this music has had but also staying ignorant. We’ve adopted a mantra of Brian’s “It’s too easy.” And that’s not to say everything we do will be successful. It’s more that we can trust in our process and our art to speak for itself and we don’t have to try to be anything but our authentic selves. As I type that, I feel hesitant to sound so boastful and privileged but I’m just trying to paint this picture of the path we’ve intentionally and unintentionally stumbled upon.

Day 7
Driving into Brooklyn on the July 4th weekend was of course a nightmare. Bumper-to-bumper traffic every ten minutes and highway concrete that rivals New Orleans potholes with their patchwork speed bumps. As Mike Sosinski (KL guitarist/singer and BTR operator) told Dominic before the show, “Brooklyn is always a situation,” and it certainly was that.

We were originally booked at The Meadows but when the show sold out a couple weeks after going on sale, they moved it next door to the larger sister venue, The Brooklyn Monarch. THEN a few weeks ago, they moved it BACK to The Meadows because The Monarch was “under construction.” Turns out “under construction” meant they booked some metal show in the bigger room next door and wanted to put that there instead. THAT show had a handful of people in the venue. Our show that sold out the 350-cap venue was now housing 400+ people in the original 350 cap room. Shout out to the Fire marshall.

The room was dark and dingy, the staff seemed like they wanted to be anywhere but the ska show, and the PA was in shambles. Luckily, today was the first day we were joined by stellar sound person, ska legend, and old friend Rick Johnson. Rick does live sound for Jeff Rosenstock and AJJ and has played in Mustard Plug, Sharkanoid (with Dan Potthast of MU330), and my favorite of his projects, Rick Johnson Rock and Roll Machine. We were in very capable hands, given the piecemeal situation we were thrown into.

So many friends came out to this show: Alex, Lindsay, Maddie Ruthless, Alexis, Clayton, Vi, Fernando (go eat at I Like Food in Queens!), Sadie, Ali. Needless to say, the show was oversold and the hot, dark room was packed to the gills. The show felt like it had a steady incline of chaos all night. They started with us and not only did they not let up, the crowd intensified. Unfortunately, we had our first moment of violence at this show. Catbite had to stop their set to intervene, ‘cause some dude threw a punch at someone. One of the camera crew attested to him pushing himself onto people and being overly aggressive, leading up to this moment too. We all refuse to knowingly be the soundtrack to violence. He was led out by security and Catbite restarted their song to a freshly rejuvenated audience.

During Kill Lincoln’s set, they attempted to do the NEW TONE chant but apparently weren’t very forthcoming about it, so Dominic jumped up and gave them the assist, and the crowd went for it. For Kill Lincoln’s OP IVY encore, we all got onstage (surprise!) and Dominic gave Greg a taste of his own medicine and picked him up on his shoulders. Pretty sure Greg picked up at least one person on his shoulders and made his way onto stage to dance for everyone’s set every single night.

After the set, the venue started hurrying us out so they could have their DJ set start on time. They started rudely trying to turn people away from the merch table but after some convincing, they were allowed to stay. We all frantically loaded out into the next show’s line around the block, more bumper-to-bumper traffic, our vans double parked. Rob went to hang with his partner Jen who flew in to see us and have a lil’ weekend in Brooklyn. We drove to a bodega on the way out to grab a late night snack. I waited in the van while Dominic, Greg, and Brian went inside, ‘cause I already had food. It didn’t take but five minutes for someone to walk up to the passenger door and try to break in. He walked up to the door, tried the handle, looked into the window, met my eyes, and ran off. I don’t think I even said anything, just gave him a wide-eyed look like dude wtf?

We had an hour drive to our hotel in Edison, New Jersey, and I think half of that was just getting out of the city. We had to pull over at one point thinking we blew a tire. Still have no idea what the hell happened, but it shook the van like it was falling apart for a moment. We got to the hotel safely, the sounds of The Far East carrying us into Jersey, and went directly to sleep for the first full night’s rest of the tour.

Day 8
Drove the short hour commute into Philly and got to the venue before soundcheck for the first time of tour. Greg dropped me, Dom, and Brian off at Foods on First Diner for some legit tuna salad and chicken salad sandwiches, and Rob grabbed some food from Chinatown on his way from the train station. Our final show of the tour was a 650 sold out hometown show for Catbite. Underground Arts is a huge basement level all-ages venue with sick art all over the walls and a wonderfully kind staff. Our green room came complete with an acoustic piano, emulator arcade machine, and tons of couch space to relax. It felt like we were gifted a giant hangout space for our celebratory last night with all our friends. Dominic serenaded us on the piano and Rob took a cat nap on the couch while I played Turtles in Time on the arcade machine with Ricky from WATU.

After our soundcheck, I took a walk to Chinatown and got an incredible iced red bean matcha with oat milk. This matcha cafe had all sorts of wild soft serve matcha delicacies but I was not trying to put that much dairy in my body before the final show. I popped into an official Hello Kitty dealer and got some snacks and a sleeping Totoro beanbag for the fam before heading back.

Our swan song set was great. We walked out to the Always Sunny theme song while Em and I did our best ballerina impressions. Mike picked Greg up on his shoulders and I think most of the band ended up in the crowd. The cherry on top of the whole set was Dominic crowd surfing for the first time.

During WATUs set, they played one of their oldest songs, “I Am Like John Cusack​.​.​.” and Brent and I played drums and trombone. Brent Friedman (Dada) is the booking agent for all these bands and is responsible for making this amazing tour happen in the first place. He also played drums in WATU for the last few years until recently stepping down to focus on booking. I played on the “Ska is Dead: Young Guns” tour and recorded horns on WATU’s third record in 2012. So for Brent and I and the older fans of the band, hearing this song was a real treat. For reference, WATU played this song at the very first Block Party in 2008 on an old rickety stage that had been flooded during Katrina that we borrowed from the CAC and pieced together on the uneven sidewalk outside The Big Top.

Catbite’s set was electric. It was incredible to see their success celebrated on their home turf. Brandon from WATU brought out a bottle of champagne for Catbite’s encore and sprayed it on the audience before we passed it around to everyone onstage. We had our final dance party to “Healthy Body” by OP IVY and relished one last time in our dream tour.

It took us a few hours to say goodbye and hug our crew of 26 friends several times before we hit the road. Shout out to Mike Sosinski (Capo) from Bad Time Records and Kill Lincoln for believing in all these bands and making our dreams come true. He works hard every day to make this a reality and I’m so glad he gets to relish in it too. I really can’t put into words how thankful we are to him for releasing our records, loving our band, putting us on the road, and documenting this wonderful glow up moment we’re all having with the documentary. Shout out to Brent for booking this whole damn thing and figuring out literally every detail ahead of time so we didn’t have to. Shout out to Rae Mystic, our cinematographer and Capricorn sibling, for being the hardest working member of the whole tour and the rest of the film crew: G, Alec, and Becca for putting themselves in steamy, hot, hectic situations every damn night to document this tour. Shout out Jer, Em, and Brit for helping BAD OP reach its fully realized form. They are all so talented and fun to share a stage with. I can’t wait to do it again. Shout out Kill Lincoln: Ume, CJ, Tyler and Food, they have more sustained energy and musicality than I ever thought humanly possible, night after night. To WATU: Ricky, Brandon, and Reade, three of the hardest working musician friends I’ve ever met. I can’t believe we’re still making music together and celebrating the fruits of all our labor so many years after starting this journey. And Devan is such a solid drummer and artist to have in the fold. To Catbite: Tim, Chris, Ben, and Killa Kenny on the keys, I don’t know if a more professional, well-balanced band exists. Each and every one of these people showed us kindness and friendship that we’ll never forget.

On our way out of Philly, true to goblin form, we stopped at Pat’s King of Steaks for cheesesteaks at 1:30 a.m. before driving three hours to a hotel in Strasburg, Virginia. We saw a UFO at the end of the drive right before the sun came up and slept until noon to start our 14-hour drive back to New Orleans. This is NEW TONE.

BAD OPERATION is on tour again, this time in California and Virginia. To follow along and for more info, check out badoperationneworleans.com.

Photos by Rae Mystic

Top photo: At the Crystal Ballroom in Boston.
Bottom photo: The author, at Underground Arts in Philadelphia.

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