No Septura US tour would be complete without a trip to the Lone Star State. Over the years we’ve racked up a fair few miles on the mighty I35 highway in Texas. But this time we were going to the nether reaches of the state – El Paso, right on the Mexican border.
Texas being as huge as it is (bigger than any European country, and roughly 3 times the size of the UK) this necessitated an entire travel day: a drive from Nevada, Missouri to Kansas City airport; a flight to Dallas-Fort Worth; and a second flight across Texas to El Paso.
On arrival we squeezed into 4 (yes four) Ubers – a strange feature of American airport taxis being that the boots are already full and you aren’t allowed to use the front passenger seat. Not ideal for a group of 7, with instruments and 8 suitcases.
Normally on these tours we are having to manage bruised and battered chops from so much playing. But now we were faced with the opposite problem because of our cancelled concert – two days off playing is not ideal preparation for the trials of a septet concert. And so once in the hotel some of us snatched a few moments of playing in our rooms, with practice mutes in so that we didn’t disturb the other guests too much.
Regular readers of this blog will know that we are occasionally fond of sampling local cuisine on our travels, and of course El Paso is famous for Tex-Mex. So we happily set out to have some fajitas, tacos, and empanadas, all washed down with a few thirst-quenching margaritas and Mexican beers. It brought to mind good memories of our 2020 visit to San Antonio, when we were treated to a Mexican meal by our good friend, mute and mouthpiece supremo Steve Wick, in the company of YouTube trombone sensation Christopher Bill.
The next morning we woke up to a glorious day. Whilst the others headed off to work with the students at the University of Texas El Paso, Matt Gee and I, keen to boost our vitamin D levels with a bit of winter sun, set off for a couple of hours’ running in the desert. The landscape was stunning but unfortunately we were in no way prepared for the conditions: whilst the hot sun ravaged our pallid winter skin, the rocky terrain battered our feet, and cactus thorns attacked us from all sides, a particularly large glochid even becoming lodged in Gee’s toe. We required a recovery session in the hotel’s outdoor pool, which was mercifully ice-bath cold.
Refreshed, we all headed to the Fox Fine Arts Recital Hall for a quick sound-check and the concert. After the expansive acoustic of St Louis, this was a more intimate venue, and the audience was very enthusiastic with their applause, occasionally even before the music had actually finished. I’m always stunned by the playing of my colleagues in this group – in every concert every single one of the players will do something that leaves me thinking “how the HELL did they do that??!” But more importantly, it’s always interesting to see how audiences react to our music, and on this tour Appalachian Spring seems to have really moved people. It was particularly noticeable here in El Paso: as the last notes died away, a deep and pensive communal silence was held before gradually giving way to rapturous applause. As ever, it was great to meet the audience afterwards, especially a group of excited high school students who were bowled away by what they’d heard.
A quick de-brief over a couple of beers, and then we were all tucked up relatively early, mindful of the long travel day that faced us the next day, as we embarked on the final leg of our epic tour.