“Woke up this morning with the weirdest case of the butterflies,” I wrote that Tuesday morning on my phone.
Just the day before, I got a call from a band my 13-year-old self had always loved.
“It’s almost surreal to think I will be embarking on just a short run of a California West Coast tour with a band I’ve always loved,” I wrote. “I’ll get to see what it’s really like to be traveling on a cramped van. I will room in the weirdest hotels and smell the funkiest bars and sweat. Oh, the romanticism of it all gets to me… but the #LolaRachel in me is just dreading the thought of it all.”
I continued, “But hasn’t the road always called to me? Why me?!”
With a sigh and a bit of nerves, I wrote, “S**t. What have I done? 😂”
“You get what you ask for!” I guess.
I had just gotten back from a spontaneous weekend’s getaway to Las Vegas with a friend and caught a slight cold waking up in that hotel room Sunday morning.
“Watch, you’re the reason you get the band sick,” my brother joked to me.
“OH MY GOD. THAT WOULD BE MY WORST NIGHTMARE!” I anxiously replied.
Meg & Dia just kicked off their two-week HappySad reunion tour — their first tour as a band together in eight years — with an all-new album and leg of shows that would take them throughout the West Coast and a few dates on the East ’til the end of September.
The forever-lingering fan girl in me was so stoked (but nervous as hell I’d be sharing rooms and traveling with them on the road, being intimate as ever — just me, Meg, Dia, Carlo and new drummer Grant spending hours on end together). The 13-year-old in me was still freaking out and dreaming up all these different scenarios in my head.
The night before I was messaging the band, “Any travel tips or things to be wary of to pack?” They told me to pack lightly, bring some water, some comfy clothes for the long drives and a water bottle to stay hydrated.
That Wednesday morning I got the call from Carlo. He picked me up on our way to Dia’s house to meet the girls and head on over to their San Diego show later that night at SOMA. Check-in and load-in would be around 4pm, so we spent the afternoon driving, picking up some merch, grabbing some In-N-Out and Starbucks wearing funky paper hats, as Dia helped me prep the merch table.
As we unpacked the boxes and hung stuff up onto the metal cage, Dia, in a moment of “band safety” (or “sisterly advice”) told me to look out for anyone who may be “creepy” or dangerous, and to feel free to call on anyone who’s numbers I have. It was a bit of a sisterly-talk, which was actually very nice and comforting, especially myself being a young twenty-something female who has had her fair share of “creeps” come up to me!
The whole day through, my little sick-self who didn’t want to sabotage this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity tried to hold back my voice and coughs in the car, which also stifled any chance of me trying to talk (ha 😂). I kept my mouth shut and coughs back, drank my water and silently hung up the merch. I grabbed a beer from the green room upstairs, walked around the parking lot, wandered around the green rooms as I saw Dia doing her stretches and vocal warmups as Carlo and Grant roamed around and Meg took a walk to Target (to which she thought up her story to introduce “Nineteen Stars”).
“I don’t know what to do with myself,” I said as I circled the same room five times.
Meg replied, “Welcome to tour!”
Settling into San Diego
San Diego’s run of tour was the band’s first date of their California shows. They had one day off prior to kicking off tour over the weekend, to which Meg joked, “I didn’t even know what to do with myself!” Dia mentioned how nice it felt to just lounge, eat, read a book and sleep in her own bed.
My favorite part of doing merch? Having friends and familiar faces come up during the shows and say hello, and even one random fan saying, “I follow you and your guitar stuff on Instagram!” What a surprise.
To be honest, I low-key had a hunch that people from online were going to approach me at the merch table. But to prepare myself, I told myself, “This is about Meg & Dia. Not me! I’m only here to help them out and I’m not going to make this about me. But if people come up, that’s cool!”
As I’ve been anticipating their tour since the summer, I was kind of in a weird, out-of-body headspace and disbelief of where I was, what was happening… I was just going with the motions. So when I rolled up to their soundcheck, I remember having a moment where I was like, “Wait a second. This is their first new set of songs in over eight years. I can’t wait to hear how they sound live!”
San Diego was definitely a more intimate night, with fans listening intently and giving the band their respect and dues. Dia even had a moment where she cried during “Dear Heart,” to which Meg stopped and adoringly gave Dia a hug. Since I was with them the entire day, I was like, “Awww…” But also, I knew how completely normal this was for Dia to get emotional while singing (I guess that just goes to show how much I’ve followed them over the years, lol).
Curfew for that night was 11pm which gave us enough time to pack up at the end of the night, settle the merch and drive back to sleep in our own beds in Los Angeles. It was hitting 1am and I remember sleepily hearing Underoath and Sleeping With Sirens playing in the van as Dia “the speed demon” drove the van back to LA by 2am in no time.
Los Angeles and the Troubadour
“We here Rachael!” Meg texted me just before 2pm to alert that they had arrived and picked me up on the way to load-in at the Troubadour for the show that night.
I technically didn’t need to arrive to the venue until 6pm to set-up merch, but I figured, I don’t even have my car (my stuff got stolen just a week prior), and I don’t get to tour everyday, so might as well come early and spend the day hanging around to get the “full experience.”
I have to say, one of the most admirable and eye-opening things I’ve seen on this tour was seeing how the girls operate. Since my sick-self was trying to heal ASAP, I opted to stay quiet and just absorb and learn as much as I could just from witnessing and observing the process of tour throughout…
As Dia, Meg, Carlo, Grant and I loaded into the back of the Troubadour, we unpacked all the gear to set up on the stage. Soundcheck was at 4pm and as the band prepped their gear, I mozied my way on over to unpack the merch boxes and start setting up some merch (to which we basically all sold-out the night before and I had to wait on 6-8 boxes of merch to arrive at the venue later that night). I wandered around, took some photos and watched the band soundcheck.
Listening to their soundcheck and getting that rare look into how they rehearse and prepare, I feel like I was able to hear much more than their live performance set. A fuller sound and an intimate, rare look where they’re conversing with each their and the sound guy to get things sounding good… And just to hear these songs every night and see how their vibes, moods and energies change?! Wow.
Since we had so much time to kill before the show, we decided to walk around and grab some food. We grubbed at Guisado’s (was my first real dinner with the band)! We walked past Salt & Straw, to which we all gushed how good it was and I couldn’t help but grab myself a scoop (even if I might be lactose lol). Dia was particularly quiet/er at the meal, to which I felt she was — ha, getting so “deep in my own head” (cue “Koala”).
This chill moment and time may have been one of my favorite parts and moments shared with the band, just because I was getting into the hang of and settling into tour and doing merch, and also shaking off some nerves (ha)!
That night was a big night, though. All of their music friends, industry friends and Dia’s actor friends were swinging by. Was a big night for new daddy Mike Kaminsky, who pretty much first opened myself up to getting to know the band better in my college days. Khalif helped lug some boxes in for us and unpack the last-minute merch that arrived for us. That merch corner became a bit chaotic and we threw the merch out like flies!
It’s nice to share conversations with fans who have grown up listening to them, eager to buy merch and support a little band who has been through it and getting back on it. A memorable conversation came from Dia’s personal acting friend who raved about just how talented Dia is and she doesn’t even know it (maybe sounds familiar?) — how she gets down on herself so much but we all know how incredibly talented she is, and how much of a storyteller she is when she carries through song. (It was such a sweet moment I decided to record a mini video message from him to send to Dia, to which the audio unfortunately cut out, but appreciated anyway.)
Joya and I (who had just joined us with merch that day) were starting to get into a good system of organization. I placed my geeky “:) or :(?” tip jar on the table to which people actually generously wanted to support.
A new friend came by to the merch table and visited me after every set, saying, “I don’t really know these bands and only came because you posted about it, but they’re pretty cool.” He charmingly/awkwardly said hi and even told Meg and Dia themselves he came out just because of me. (Dia joked to me the next morning, “I think he was only awkward because of you, ’cause I was talking to him outside and he seemed chill…” Joya kept finding his presence around me funny as well. But goodness, I don’t know what it is I do, I promise!
I enjoyed their set from above. Dante Basco bought me a drink as I fangirled to “Cardigan Weather” with AJ Rafael. As that night ended and I sweatily packed all of the merch and boxes back into the van, my roommate came as I gave her an extra ticket a fan had “gifted to me” (lol), I said bye to the band as we munched on their special Donut Friend “Nutmeg & Chia” donuts someone bought for us, and I hitched a ride.
“7 hour drive to San Fran venue tmrw! Load in at 4! We will leave at 8 am tmrw!” Dia texted the group, to which I replied with a “!!” because it was well past 1am and I had way too much adrenaline from the show and knew I was not sleeping. Ha! I could not wait to head up to San Francisco to see all my family and friends as I’ve been anticipating that show for a while. I slept at 4am that morning, packed my luggage for the weekend and got up just in time for the band to pick me up at 8am and deliver us some salmon lox bagels for breakfast. Yum!
The slow drawls and hometown reunion in San Francisco
That drive. That slow morning. My lack of sleep and tired self still holding back my coughs. Was I even awake? Were we all even awake? What am I doing here? Wait, I’m seeing my family tonight? Shoot, I can’t believe they’re all coming!
“Do you have any more people you want to add to the list?” Dia asked.
I gave her a few more names of my friends (definitely all high school) who wanted to come out.
“Wow, I’m so tired and I’m so excited my family and friends are coming out, but I physically can’t show my excitement!” I frustratingly said in my head, as my mind was running a million different directions that day.
This was probably the day I got the most in my own head (to which Meg comfortingly added on the road, “I get like that sometimes too and sometimes I need to remind myself — I hold my body and just breathe for 30 minutes to get back in touch with myself”).
As the night approached, my mom walked over from work in the city to visit me at the venue, and I showed her the merch table, the venue, my clothes and luggage… ha! I introduced her to Carlo and Dia as they did their soundcheck. Showtime wasn’t going to be until 11pm that night (wowzers!) as we all tried to stay awake until then. (Friday nights in SF with a live DJ to follow afterward. “Are we dancing tonight?!” we joked.) Joya and I proceeded to walk around, as I wanted to get some “fresh air” outside of the venue and just “walk and talk it out,” as we both had some nerves that day (haha). I went outside to visit my brother and other Meg & Dia boardies who were anticipating the show and asking, “Wow how’s merch life Rachel?!” Nick even joked to me, “Y’all are a heavy crew,” saying anyone would be intimidated to approach, Meg, Dia, Joya and me at the table. 😂 (“But I’m the nicest person!” I explained.)
What a night. It truly felt like a high school reunion as my high school besties all came out — Patricia and Danny, who were glad just to see me, Giann, who I used to play all of Meg & Dia’s songs with in high school performances, and Amanda, of all people (ha!).
As Meg and Dia did their meet-and-greets with fans after the show, signing merch and sharing conversations, they waited until every last fan. It was soon to be 1:30am and we had to get OUT! I proceeded to help pack up the merch into the van, as Meg and Dia themselves helped in the process.
I have to say… It was absolutely admirable to see them sucking it up, picking up the boxes and racking them on top of each other with no complaints or hesitancy. As pros who have been doing this since they were teens, it was absolutely humbling to see them just get up and do the dirty work. Dia talking and checking in with venue managers, as managers would go, “You guys don’t have a manager?” Meg would go and settle merch at the end of the night. They upkept inventory and as we got into the van to drive to the hotel that night, Dia drove the big a** van 30 minutes to the hotel on probably pure tour/performance exhaustion, and miraculously fit into the tiniest of parking spaces, as we checked into the hotel at 3am and all lacking sleep as we just drove up and played LA the night before and somehow managed to make it here… Meg, Dia, Joya and I shared the room and we took our showers and slept like babies.
“Let’s request a late check-out,” Dia said, as we all slept soundly. “That’s the latest Meg ever slept in!” as the early bird she was.
Strolling basketball games and man-hunting with the Framptons
Carlo had flown out that night/morning at 4am to make it to baby Leon’s birthday (absolutely the most adorable kid, I have to say!). It was then just the five of us that day, while Meg and Dia would play a short acoustic set. We had a nice weekend’s day on the road to just enjoy the summer sun and “chill.”
We went back to the amazing Souvla, one of my favorite restaurants in Hayes Valley. Wandered around and window-shopped. I bought an egg-crown-children’s-book plush stuffed toy thingy with the saying, “What would you do with an idea?” Dia bought a watermelon plush as well (lol). I’m not sure why, but my buying that whimsical crown egg was probably the one thing that made me smile the most on tour! It felt like a truly normal moment for me and just made me so happy (I forever have a little tour souvenir with a message that is so dear to my heart).
We arrived to the ISA TV charity basketball game mid-afternoon, as the entire Asian-American community in LA seemed to be there too.
“4000+ people?!” I said in amazement, as the girls were to play a halftime show in front of all these fans.
We set up merch, had some food, checked into our rooms and hung out. Dia tried to manhunt for Meg, as Khalif pointed out to Dia that someone was asking, “Who’s the girl in the yoga pants?” referring to me. Ha! We all shared glances and little, “Hmm..” judging if these were our “types.” 😂 (Ha, I have to say. It’s so refreshing to just have girl talk and feel like I have sisters on the road! As I’ve always been surrounded by boys and my brothers, I love having this kind of silly sister talk where I can openly talk about these boy situations, ha!)
These girls are incredibly responsible on tour, and for good reason. Meg shared some horror tour stories in the past while on the road — how Leslie got stranded at a gas station when they were on their way to a hotel at 2am in the morning — and I’m sure they’ve already had their days and wild nights on tour. As they’re back as a band together on the road after eight years, it’s kind of cool to get an insider look from these “sisters I never had,” seeing how calm the road can be, how incredibly “normal” yet abnormal tour life can be, despite all other assumptions about tour life. (I’m glad I had a completely comfortable time on tour, and wasn’t as uncomfortable as I had initially expected!)
It was a few days that had gone by so fast. And as the band headed straight to an airport when we arrived back in LA, I bid them adieu. And, I kind of missed it already…
It felt so good to be back home, to rest and properly heal up… but, with them on the road felt like a nice break and I could see how this could be life. (Definitely not something to do every day for your life, because at some point you could lose touch of reality and home, ha!) but… throughout it all, it was a lovely experience and time. And what a crazy way to cap off my journey with this little small-town band, from a girl at 13 who saw two girls who look like me playing rock music on the MySpace front page, to eventually growing an uncanny relation to them… I owe a lot to them for finding my voice, my self, my writing and my music throughout my adolescence since 13… and 13 years later, to be joining them on the road just to help. What an honor.
Some “after tour” stories may be entertaining, but I’ll save that for another time… All in all, there is so much more I could say about my experience with them, on the road, getting to know each other and the process of tour, but…
When you post an at-home selfie with a caption that you are working on new stuff, and forget you’re now Facebook friends with someone you’ve listened to for so long, and they see and “like” that said photo… That’s almost a little embarrassing! But it’s also a little comforting at the same time…
“I see you,” it says.
What a concept I thought would’ve never been true.
Follow Meg & Dia on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
And view their videos from San Diego (here), Los Angeles (here) and San Francisco (here). (Did you get that? Ha!)
Good read Rach..glad you had fun as a merch girl 🙌
That video of Dia crying during “Dear Heart” is absolutely precious. Must have been incredible to experience in-person out on the road with them.
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