Illustration by Adrian Walker
Lucy Dacus places a call to Richmond before digging into a towering biscuit breakfast sandwich in Portland, Oregon. She’s become somewhat of an egg-carb-cheese-meat-stack connoisseur on her latest tour, which finds her tracing a path across America by way of a 15-passenger van that’s racked up something to the tune of 20,000 miles since March. Energy conservation is key, she says from across the country, and the food you choose is vital to both your onstage performance and your ability to keep up with grueling travel schedules. But the food musicians eat on the road is often more than carefully considered fuel, and for some of the city’s touring best, the finest meals overseas still can’t top their favorite bowl of pho here in RVA.
“When you’re on tour, every element of your life has been planned for weeks in advance — like where you’re going, how long the drive is, how long you’re staying, where you’re sleeping at night, what the venue is, your load-in time — every minute of your life is planned out,” Dacus says. “But you get to pick your food, so that’s like a moment of personal expression. What we’re going to eat and where we’re going to eat has taken on a new element of freedom for me.” The indie-rock Matador Records artist and her band often take a minute for themselves with a hearty, late breakfast, and Dacus snacks on healthier fare, such as nori, in the van. When it comes time to eat before a show, she opts for sushi: something substantial but light enough to not weigh her down while she plays. And when she comes home, she’s all about The Naked Onion’s pork belly bánh mì, the chicken biscuit at Saison Market, a quiet hour or two in Greenbriar Café, and anything at Shyndigz.
For Reggie Pace, nothing can top Pho So 1’s Chicken Pho Ga with an order of crispy spring rolls and an iced coffee. The No BS! Brass Band co-founder and trombonist spends most of his summers and early fall on the road, and always makes sure it’s one of his first stops when he comes off a tour. “I have to go immediately when I come home,” he laughs. He’s calling from Los Angeles, where he’s playing with Sufjan Stevens. This year has kept Pace busy flying back and forth between Stevens’ lush pop experimentations and No BS’s funky and energetic 12-member performances. When he’s not onstage, he and his No BS! bandmates can be found learning about their tour stops through cuisine. “We all kind of separate a little bit when we’re exploring the city, but me and a couple of the other guys always try and find what the quintessential thing is for food, like what is the thing everyone gets?” he says. “We were eating so much seafood when we were in Italy and Croatia, just like giant squids and stuff. It’s fun. We really try and get out in a city.”
The quartet behind Positive No’s fuzzy indie pop tour at least once a month, usually in short weekend bursts, booking shows six to eight hours in any direction and always stocking their van with seeds, pretzels and dried goods from Ellwood Thompson’s. But when it comes to dining pre-show, food can become a bonding experience, whether they’re crowd-sourcing restaurant suggestions from social media or chatting with venue staff. “It gives you something to talk about, especially if you have three or four hours to kill before you play,” singer Tracy Wilson says. “It’s nice to have somebody working bar talk to you about something different than how many microphones you need.”
And for as many cafés as our great nation has, what is it that Wilson looks forward to in Richmond? “Coffee is a big one. [Quality] is something that can be really tough, so it’s nice to come home and know ‘I’m gonna go to Lamplighter and get this cup of coffee,’” she says, “or, ‘If I get something at Kuba Kuba, I can get a café con leche that’s gonna be fantastic.’ Something reliable.”