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The Road to SXSW: Tour Diaries Of Tammie Valer and Alicia Blue

I have been following Alicia Blue’s career for about six or seven years now. Alicia started her music career around the same time I started my photography career. Since our first photo session and the very first time I saw her perform live, I knew there was a star to be born. Her story fascinated me and encouraged me to achieve everything I want regardless of fear. When Alicia announced she was going on her SXSW tour, from March 15 to March 20, I knew I had to be part of this chapter.

I wore many hats on this tour but what I am most proud of is having the honor to document Alicia’s first tour.

Alicia and her band packed up the van on a Tuesday morning. Her bandmates on this tour were Mike Rasile, Ryan Ladd, and Zach Funkhouser. Our first stop: Memphis, Tennessee. Alicia and I are veteran travelers. We have driven to and from Los Angeles to Nashville quite a few times. The difference this time around was that we were driving a pretty big black van. Driving this van through Tennessee’s hidden paths was truly an adventure. At some point we ended up right in front of Loretta Lynn’s Ranch.

A couple hours later, we arrived at Growlers in Memphis. After Alicia and the band unloaded, they had a couple of hours to relax and find something to eat. The band went on a hunt for food and Alicia and I chose to eat at the venue. We asked one of the kind employees if they were serving food. The man looked to his right and yelled out “Mama! Wake up!”. There was a lady who was taking a nap on one of the benches. She got up and went straight to the kitchen. She gave Alicia chicken skewers to try and I had a burger. It was delicious! Mama took pride in her food and it showed.

Alicia and the band had a toast before showtime and a pep talk. Then they made their way to the stage. As usual, Alicia and the band killed it. This show was a great warm up that set the tone for the rest of the tour.

Our next stop was Ponyboy in Oklahoma City. We arrived sometime in the afternoon. The venue was located in the upstairs of the historic Tower Theater. It was a beautiful location. We had a complimentary dinner at Ponyboy’s restaurant before showtime. We all sat around a table, ate and joked around for a little while. A couple of minutes before the show started, they toasted to another good show and I took a quick group shot of them in the green room. Then they were off to the stage.

Carly Gwin and The Sin opened the night. They are a flower rock band based in Oklahoma. I would describe their sound as rock with a psychedelic twist to it. Alicia ended the night. I cannot begin to describe how excellent the sound was for this show. Their set was fantastic and was well received by the crowd. There was a new fan that had walked up to me and asked me what the name of the second to last song was. He was referring to “Best Hands”. He told me he couldn’t describe it but that song gave him the chills and that he loved it.

SXSW was our next stop. Alicia was to perform two shows on the first day in Austin and one last show the next day. The Driskill show was the main event and was the highlight of her tour. It just so happens that her set was at 1am, on the day of her birthday, and on a full moon. What better way to celebrate! You would think that not many people would attend a 1am show but we were proven wrong. There was a great turn out and with no surprise well received by the crowd. There were important people in the music industry in attendance that night as well. On my end, it was rare for a venue to care or ask me if the lighting is efficient. But this place did and I appreciated it. They also allowed me to shoot in the balcony which allowed me to cover several different angles of the set that night. Overall, it was a magical and successful night for everyone. We made our way back to the hotel, picked up some snacks and drinks from the vending machine and sat in our room discussing with whatever little energy we had left, the highlights of the night. For me, the most memorable moment was earlier in the day, while we were relaxing before The Driskill show, Alicia had shared with me how this tour has confirmed that this is what she wants to do for the rest of her life.

We enjoyed our last day in Austin with one last show at Embassy Suites. We were soon back on the road, heading to the one location I was personally most excited about. New Orleans. At a gas station, in the middle of nowhere in Texas, through the kind generosity of Ryan, we adopted a tour mascot, part dragon and unicorn, named Grendel. I could not resist! We made our way to a hotel, only a couple of hours from New Orleans, and rested for the night.

On our way to New Orleans, we took a pit stop at a gas station where I tried crawfish for the first time. Mike had to show me and Alicia how to properly eat them. The drive towards New Orleans was an experience. We were surrounded by water on each side and swamps as well. We got to the city early enough to explore before showtime. We walked down the streets of New Orleans and I was in awe. I have never seen a city like this. It was buzzing with people. We walked through what looked like a parade, only to find out it was a Jazz Funeral. In case you don’t know what that is, when people die in New Orleans, they like to fill the streets with music in celebration of the person’s life. We had a delicious lunch at a restaurant, explored a little longer, and made our way back to the van to get to the venue. It turns out, the restaurant we ate at was right next to the venue, the House of Blues, and we completely missed it. Due to a large parade going through the town causing street closures at every turn, our supposedly five minute drive to the venue turned out to be more than an hour. We were definitely late but the venue was accommodating. Apparently this is a common occurrence in this city.

Despite all the craziness, they got on stage and delivered another amazing set. A couple of Alicia’s friends were in attendance which made the night even more special. We spent some more time exploring the town after the show. Visited one of the oldest bars in town. We talked and laughed. We had a good time. Our time in New Orleans was short but unforgettable.

Our last stop on tour was Zydeco in Birmingham, Alabama. We tried Waffle House for the first time that morning. Coming from a city full of Denny’s and IHOP, Waffle House takes the crown. Once they loaded everything into the venue, there was a couple of hours to relax. We spent some time getting to know Rob Aldridge, who was the opener for the night. Despite the lack of sleep the night before, Alicia pulled through one last time, like the rockstar she is. I took one last group shot and we headed back home to Nashville.

This tour was such an incredible experience. Personally I learned so much. What made the experience pleasant was that everyone was in good spirits. Everyone looked out for each other and there was respect. Alicia’s professionalism, patience, kindness, and enthusiasm kept everyone grounded. Every night and every day she would thank the entire team for their hard work. She did not miss a day. I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this tour and to contribute what I can. I can’t wait for the next one!

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