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Published: 2009/08/26
by Mike Greenhaus

August and Everything After: Adam Duritz on His Summer with The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show

Adam Duritz isn’t always easy to get a hold of and even when you do pin him down, he isn’t always in the mood to talk. But, when you catch him on the right day, on the right tour in the right mindset, he’ll talk so much, it’s nearly impossible to get in a question. He’ll want to tell you about The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show tour he thought of with longtime friends Michael Franti & Spearhead and Augustana—how he plans to turn the traditional rock show in its head by curetting a seamless night of inter-band collaborations and Last Waltz-style jams. Living up to his lyrics, he’ll also wax poetic on girls, friendship and the continuing influence his heroes in Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker have on his work. And, if you’re lucky enough, he’ll even serenade you with one of his trademark folk-pop songs. Relix and Jambands.com were lucky enough to catch up with Duritz in one of his talkative moods and discussed not only his current summer outing with Spearhead and Augustana, but his recent health problems, newest set of lyrics and why he “has lots of songs, but all the girls are gone.”

The Traveling Circus and Medicine Show is a pretty unique concept for a modern rock show. What initially sparked the idea for the tour?

Well, it started because last year, a few of our guys’ wives were pregnant, and they had to leave the tour a few weeks early. So a bunch of the guys from Augustana were going to help them out with some songs and they were working on getting ready to do that during the tour. It started to occur to me that I didn’t want people to think they were getting less of a concert because there were less Counting Crows there and I thought, “What if we make the show all about all the different members of from the different bands, and make the point of the show that you’re seeing all these different people.” I thought, “We’ll do all different kind of songs together—let’s have them plan even more songs, help with the original songs, involve Franti with all people—let’s overwhelm the audience with fun stuff.” That’s kind of what we wanted to do. And it was so much fun that the last two weeks of that tour, we were missing two members, but we had such a blast. I thought, “This is what I want to do, I don’t want to play concerts anymore. I’m tired of it.”

I’d imagine that part of the concept was also to expose your fans to some new music?

We have this amazing band nobody sees opening the show or that people recognize some of their music but go get a beer during their set. I wanted everyone to see all the music-I wanted all of us to play together, I wanted to have fun. And I know people don’t really have a lot of money these days, so I want to give them a real show so where they show up and the show starts with 18 people on the stage. The curtain goes up, and we haul the curtain up ourselves, and there’s 18 people out on stage, and it just launches. And we all play together for a few songs and we’ll get up and stand for a minute, then a Counting Crows set, then we play some stuff together again, then Spearhead plays, then we all play together, and the concert goes on for a long time. And then intermission, and then we come back, then Counting Crows plays a set, Spearhead plays a set. Then, Augustana and Counting Crows come back on and play a song together, then Augustana plays a set. And then we all come back on to…Oh no! We had a little extra time, so we all run out and played “Mr. Jones.” One time we ran out, literally, and played “Mr. Jones.” We thought we had the extra time for it, and everyone came back on stage and played two more songs to finish it out, all together, everybody out there. And then we played a half-hour encore with all the bands out there.

Counting Crows have played several shows with Augustana recently but you actually have a much deeper, surprisingly long history with Michael Franti and Spearhead. How did you initially meet?

Much longer history. I grew up playing basketball with Michael. The first record Michael ever made is produced by Dave Bryson, our guitar player. Right in the studio, Dave produced it. I can remember having a birthday one year where I said, “Don’t even try to throw me a party, if you want to find me on my birthday, I’ll be watching the Beatnigs and the Ophelias.” The Beatnigs was Michael’s band, and the Ophelias was David Immergluck’s indie band—our guitar player. We’ve all known each other forever. Michael and I played basketball from after work ‘till the sun went down. There was a great full court game that ran in North Berkeley on the upper Hurst court—17 people would show up, and we’d run five on five full court, winner stayed on all day until the sun went down and you could see me and Mike—we’d do it all night after work.

We would play every day. Michael was really good. Michael played Division One basketball. He played at USF, so he was a really good basketball player. I just love playing. So you know, we’ve all known each other for a really long time. I hadn’t seen Michael in maybe ten years when we got back together to start rehearsals for this tour. It’s funny, because I hadn’t seen him a long time. But we all know each other, and have forever. And they’re all very good guys in that band.

It seems like Spearhead and Counting Crows were always passing in the night.

You know we all met up in Illinois and rehearsed for about three days a couple of months ago, with all three bands, and everyone got to know each other, and we just had a blast doing it together. We found ways to play songs together, came up with cool stuff, put human beat boxing on Counting Crows songs, developed ideas with Dan from Augustana, had two of the Spearhead guys singing behind Michael on this new song he had just written—we came up with all kinds of cool stuff. We would have so much more variety by now, but people got really sick. Michael almost died early in the tour. He played the first three weeks of the tour with incredible stomach pain—I forgot what it was, but they finally realized his appendix had burst, two weeks before, undiagnosed—just intense pain for two weeks. And by the time they discovered it, it was septic, it was poison, his whole body was totally poisoned. I blew out my knee last week, I smashed it so many times after cutting it at one point that it got infected.

How did that happen?

I opened my knee up, and literally, opened it up and washed out, like an open operation. The antibiotics pretty much took it almost all the way down. Then three nights ago on stage I walked off after our second half of the set, and realized I forgot to introduce Spearhead, and we all ran on stage and I had slammed my mic stand down and left my mic on the ground, I went running back across the stage, dove head first and slid on my stomach across the stage on the floor, came to a halt right there and screamed, “Spearhead!” They came on stage, and I walked off I went around the corner, down the hallway, entered our dressing room, took a look down and I had bandages—they had to cut off a lot of my knee, it had pretty much healed up but there was a little bit of stuff underneath it. I had bandages over it, gauze over that, an ace bandage over that and my jeans on. And when I looked down at my leg, all of 30 seconds after coming off stage, it was an eight inch diameter circle of blood and there was a pool of blood. I don’t know how much blood I lost that night, but—a ton. It was enough to soak through four layers of stuff and jeans.

It’s rock and roll. And I had to go back out, I literally had just enough time to quickly rinse it off, get that ace bandage off, put a new one on with some bandages, and get back on stage with time to sing back up for Spearhead—horribly bloodstained. But Michael, to do what Michael does, it’s reckless. You know three surgeries, a multitude of injuries…That’s from bashing into each other with eighteen people for a great deal of the show. How we don’t just have injuries from smashing guitars into our heads, I don’t know. That hasn’t happened yet. No one’s gotten clocked with a guitar yet, which really—shit happens. That should really happen, there’s so many guitars out there at any one time that you should really get clocked with a guitar at some point. And we have marching bands, I have this great idea: we have three drummers you know, great drummers and when we’re all on stage, I said, “I don’t want you guys just standing around. Let’s get marching band stuff! Let’s get a marching band bass drum, just like a brass band would have, and let’s get a snare, a neck snare. Some of these songs, the marching band equipment would be cool.”

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