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After their performances, indie-folk group Watching for Foxes don’t waste much time before tearing down their set, thanking the booker and collecting pay, and schlepping gear back to their large passenger van. After all, on some nights they might be driving several hours back home to Grand Rapids.
Frontman Joey Frendo grabbed their mahogany Gibson Les Paul and their Martin acoustic guitar by their cases.
But he forgot the van keys.
He thought about the risks of leaving the guitars unattended. He looked around and only saw a few guys smoking cigarettes outside. He thought, “Do I leave the guitars here? Or do I bring them with me?” And then a definitive voice entered his head: “It’s Traverse City. What could happen?”
He set the guitars underneath the van near the back doors, out of plain sight, and dashed back into the venue to grab the keys. As a musician, Frendo notes, “I’m always cautious about our stuff because I’ve heard horror stories about losing gear.”
Frendo’s motions after setting down the guitars were swift: he went through the door, grabbed the keys, and walked back out.
But the guitars weren’t there.
Losing gear is a musician’s worst nightmare. And from fresh new groups playing in local bars to road-worn bands embarking on yet another tour, letting your guard down at the wrong time could mean losing your favorite guitar.
Frendo and the rest of the band know this. They work 40-hour weeks while putting much of their remaining time into music. In a story that would have sounded unreal the day before, Watching for Foxes embarked on a “bat out of hell” trip to find their guitars. And through trial and tribulation, they returned with them as well as a few lessons.
When he noticed the guitars were missing, Frendo immediately went back inside to ask his bandmates if they grabbed the guitars, since some of them were spending another night in the Traverse area. “We’ve been on the road a decent amount, we’re all doing different things at the end of the night. If you leave your backpack, your buddy has your back,” Frendo says.
After only three minutes since he had set the guitars down, he entered panic mode. But he and the band “flipped the switch to enter recovery mode” – they called the police immediately, they dispersed in different directions, they asked people nearby if they’ve seen the two guitars, they talked to nearby venues, they checked Craigslist ads on their phones, and they posted about their missing gear on social media.
The police took their statements and, after nearly two hours of nighttime searching, the band felt they reached the end of their efforts.
Frendo said that losing two guitars can completely cripple a fairly new band that’s gaining traction. Not only did their guitars cost thousands of dollars, Frendo also noted that losing gear forfeits a musician’s relationship with it.
“Our instruments were the tools that brought us here,” he says, noting that while the guitar is a physical object, there’s also an emotional component. “You spend hours knowing this gear. It’s romantically a part of the songwriting process and band aesthetic.”
On Facebook, over a hundred people liked their post, nearly 800 people shared it, and 48,000 people viewed it. Within two days, kind strangers tipped them with the intel that a man around town had been seen carrying two guitars.
They then embarked on their odyssey back to Traverse City. Receiving these tips made them feel obligated to get the instruments back. “Some other musicians have to move on when they’re on the road and if they got gigs coming up, but we were [still so] close that we had to do it.”
They searched for hours but lost steam. They were calling it quits right as a man walked by. Down to his posture and even the way he walked, the man fit all the descriptions the band heard.
The man grabbed a smoke from people near them and chatted with them. Frendo and the band overheard the man asking about a guitar. He said he stashed the guitars behind the local burger joint.
One bandmate called the police while the others raced to the restaurant, which was across a bridge from the venue. The guitars were placed near the bushes behind the restaurant, next to the Grand Traverse River. They had to unearth the instruments by removing rocks and unburying them. “It was like raiding a tomb,” Frendo says. By the time they found the guitars, the police apprehended the thief.
They were lucky. “It’s the whole adage of you never think it’s going to happen until it does,” he says. Still, Watching for Foxes’ story can remind us of a few lessons.
Though seemingly simple, having a structure and a routine can put you at ease while putting your motions in cruise control. These tips have helped smooth Watching for Foxes’ operations since this escapade. After all, it’s all a mindset: “You can’t ever be too cautious about it,” Frendo concludes.
Colin Smith is a guitarist/vocalist in the band King Median. He is also the Head Editor at Roots of Success and an auditor for the Chicago alt-weekly Newcity. He writes about the arts, literature, and music for Third Coast Review, Off-Kilter Magazine, Buried Muse, and Performer Magazine. Find him on Twitter @colinsaburo