TEA LEAF GREEN: LIVING THE DREAM

 
We'd rather have people there to have fun than worry about making the bucks... One night he [Ben] bought everybody in the bar a shot of tequila and invited them back to our house for a party. We formed this early bond with our first fans and friends.
-Josh Clark
 
Photo by Dave Vann

Their initial years of constantly playing in the Bay Area primed Tea Leaf Green for another early milestone – the 2001 High Sierra Music Festival. A highlight of every year's west coast festival season, High Sierra has been a breeding ground for bands to expose themselves to thousands of new fans over the course of a weekend. Tea Leaf Green's performance at their inaugural High Sierra was no exception and served as a huge career-building show. Opening their set in front of just a handful of friends and onlookers, they were greeted by resounding applause from over a thousand new dancing fans at the end of their performance. Festival organizers must have taken notice as the band has appeared at every High Sierra since and dominated this past year's appearances with an extended late night set, main stage performance, and several 'stealth' gigs.

Recounting the glory of High Sierra, Josh says:


Josh Clark with Eric McFadden :: HSMF 2003 by Jon Gelbard
"High Sierra was definitely the next step, and all the kids from Davis were there. It was our biggest emergence from the ultra underground. That was my first multiple-day music festival that I had ever been to. It was a great thing for the band and for people seeing the band and getting into it and making lots of friends and connections, but it was also kind of my music school where I'd see so much stuff that blew my mind that year. I saw that as an opportunity to try and rock as hard as I could and to get involved with the 'scene' as it is. It's a beautiful creative community of artists and fans where the creative spirits aren't just relegated to the bands. Everyone can be an artist. It was eye opening."

"High Sierra has been very nurturing for a lot of bands, which they continue to support and bring back. Plus, they are always pumping in new music. It builds up a new way for your band to sort of be broken in without it being forced on you. You get this chance at a live venue to shine where everybody goes out there to play their best, and all the kids go out there to listen too because they know everybody is playing their guts out. There's not a band going up to that festival that won't try to play their absolute best regardless of their audience size. It's just conducive to making the music you want to make with an audience that is just ready for us."


Rager & Clark by Josh Miller
The Bay Area isn't always the most forgiving place for a band to live and is especially difficult on the touring artist. With very few major cities within striking distance, it often takes several cross-country jaunts for a band to build up a strong nationwide buzz, and this can certainly weigh on the individual band members as they cross this wide country. For Tea Leaf Green, they've had to endure years of criss-crossing the country, playing to empty bars, and relying on word-of-mouth to help spread their buzz.

Unfortunately, there is a moment in most artists' careers where they must face the painful truth of coming to terms with their own definition of success. They have traveled the long hard road for many years, had their ups and down, seen the light and dark and more than one shade of grey. It is a turning point which too often can be a breaking point, and for Tea Leaf Green that point came about two years ago during a November tour as they were making an extended trek through the Southeast.

Josh thinks back to that fateful day:

"We had been on a really long tour, and things were getting pretty rocky. We had run ins with the law, run ins with everything basically, and then we got to New Orleans. This was our last show of the tour, and in my mind I said, 'If nobody shows up to this show, I might never do this again.' But 100 people showed up rocking, and they stayed and we played an extra set and kept playing and playing. It was a real uplifter. For me, it was an incredible show – a Rebirth."


Josh Clark :: TLG by Josh Miller
"It's moments like those that keep you going. Totally like the sports cliché: bottom of the 9th, you're ruined and totally depleted and broke, and your health is miserable from eating crap on the road, smoking cigs, drinking beers. The band's self esteem will plummet, especially if you play a string of empty bars... eventually you hit a bottom place. But then you'll hit a gig where people will show up and really appreciate it and dance and make you feel good for making them feel good."

"Life on the road is hard, but it's also an incredible adventure. It's unlike anything else. You can just go out there with your buddies and say, 'We are going to make something happen for ourselves that we've dreamed up completely. We are going to try to live the closest thing to the American Dream that I can imagine.' It is the great American Dream Adventure. It can get a little mundane and patterned, but there are still all sorts of random things that happen all the time that wouldn't happen at home, which is very alluring and draws you back out. A McDonalds in Alabama is good enough for an entire novel."

Like so many artists before them, New Orleans has been a fertile ground for Tea Leaf Green and the site of more than one sun-rising legendary career performance. The first true glory bayou moment came as the band literally closed the 2003 New Orleans JazzFest with a 6 a.m. Sunday (start time!) performance at the Howlin' Wolf, beginning with the original anthemic "Sex in the 70s" and closing with a fitting tribute of The Beatles' "I've Got A Feeling." This feeling continued for the last few years and seriously manifested earlier this year as the band played a blistering career-high show at the Blue Nile from midnight to 6 a.m.


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