The Dirty River Boys At Least Try To Keep Their Van Clean.
Behind every great band is a great van. And when these former church vans, daycare buses and plumber's work vehicles have racked up enough miles on the road, they eventually start being thought of by the band as another member of the team. Hey, we get it: It's hard to spend so many hours with bandmates (both human and machine) without a few things getting broken, a few good fights taking place and lots of great memories being made. We hope that, by exploring these stories, we might get to know some bands from both North Texas and beyond on a more personal level. Check out this feature's archives here.
For the past three years, multi-instrumentalists Marco Gutierrez, Nino Cooper and Travis Stearns have been raising hell around El Paso and beyond with their brand of intricate instrumental passages and group vocals. But since the addition of standup bassist Colton James to their lineup in late 2011 and the release of their debut full-length last fall, they've been hitting the road harder than ever.
In addition to their nearly weekly regional swings, the band recently began adding more multi-week jaunts to the far reaches of the U.S. into their tour rotation, racking up 200,000 miles in their current van in the process.
Thus far, their plan has worked to their advantage. Their rowdy behavior (both on and off stage) and frequent touring has helped the band win over crowds with their stripped-down Americana sound — even in larger venues such as the Granada Theater, where we recently caught up with them. Credit, too, their packed schedule with helping them catch the ears of Willie Nelson, who invited the band to perform at his annual Fourth of July Picnic next month.
Before all that, though, the band took some time out of their increasingly busy schedule to give us an inside look at their van — and to do a few skateboard tricks off its roof while we did so.
Band Name: Dirty River Boys.
Van Name: “We call it 'The Prison on Wheels.' We haven't named it, and I think that's why it hasn't given us trouble so far.”
Year/Make/Model: 2006 Ford E350.
Where did your van come from?
Marco Gutierrez (guitar/mandolin/vocals): “Casa Ford in El Paso, Texas.”
What makes your van special? What are its best and worst features?
Marco: “All the lost hubcaps.”
Nino Cooper (guitar/mandolin/vocals): “All the hubcaps fell off.”
Marco: “The smell.”
How would you describe the smell?
Colton “CJ” James (bass): “Broken dreams.”
Marco: “One time after we played, this dude came up to us with this big ol' watermelon, like 'Hey, man, I brought you a watermelon!' We were like 'Cool! Great! Throw that thing in the van!' And then we didn't touch it until the next week we went on tour. It was in the dead of the sweltering summer. It turned black and liquefied. For two months after that, it smelled like somebody just threw up right in your seat.”
So what's the best feature, then?
Nino: “Air conditioning.”
Marco: “Maybe it's the fact that we have [the right amount of members] where we can all lay down. That's pretty awesome. We recently had one of my buddies on the road, selling merch and helping us out. That kind of fucks it up. You have that one pair that has to sit.”
Nino: “We have a little designated gym area. It's one-foot by one-foot.”
Marco: “We can lift little 12-pound weights. You can really get fucking ripped on the road.”
Nino: “We have a trash bag hanging on the door at all times just to try and keep it clean.”
Luke “The Nuke” Wilbanks (tour manager): “Did they tell you the van has Wi-Fi?”
Marco: “That's the best feature! But you only get Wi-Fi when you're in service. You have to have cell service. But it's still cool to say the van has Wi-Fi.”
Do you have any good breakdown stories?
Nino: “The A/C went out a few times.”
Marco: “In Steamboat, what happened? Something froze, right?”
Luke: “Oh yeah, the air intake line froze, so we weren't getting any combustion. We were just rolling to a stop in the middle of the mountains.”
Marco: “But I know like the dudes from Uncle Lucius just got a new van and it's leaking. We haven't had shit like that happen — fucking knock on wood.
What are your best memories from being in the van?
CJ: “We can't tell you those!”
Marco: “That's classified information for CJ.”
Luke: “Yeah, some nights, we make CJ pay an hourly rate for the deal.”
Marco: “What are our best memories?”
CJ: “Probably when Nino gets animal-drunk and starts crawling around.”
Nino: “Before we had a trailer, we used to have everything in the van. We were going around playing places like Lustre Pearl in the old days. I had one too many, and I woke up underneath the bench and I thought I was in a coffin or something. I didn't know where I was. That's not good memories.”
CJ: “I remember when I first met y'all and we figured out we could fit the upright bass in there. That was, like, a big moment.”
Marco: “We'd balance it on top of all the seats.”
Nino: “We didn't have a trailer for the longest time. I'd sleep underneath the upright bass. It would go right over me.”
What are the best modifications you've made to the van, decorative or otherwise?
Marco: “We don't have it anymore, but the best modification we added was a 'La Cucaracha' horn. Everywhere we'd pull up, it'd be [hums the song]. If you also notice, we have some beautiful, strategically-placed gaffe tape holding in the headlight.”
Nino: “The funny thing is, we've taken the van to the shop many times, we've gotten the AC/ replaced for like $1,100.00. But we still can't seem to let the gaffe tape go. It's been on there for two years now.”
Anything else we you'd like to tell us about your van?
CJ: “[Our drummer] Travis [Stearns] spent more time in the van than anybody. He used to live in it for the longest time.”
Marco: “We got pulled over at the border station coming out of El Paso. At first they said 'Pull off to the side.' So we pulled off to the side. Then we all get out, they patted all of us down, then they sent us back. Then they told Travis, 'You. Come here.' They were digging into him, man. I mean like asking, 'Do you have any weed in here?' and just being assholes. Then they send Travis back and they're further inspecting the van and tearing it apart. At that point, we think somebody sabotaged us. Then the Border Patrol agent was like, 'You three from El Paso come here.' We all walked to the side. We were standing there and I thought we were fucked. And the guy is like, 'Are you the Dirty River Boys?!' It went from being the biggest, bad feeling to this kind of uncle-like love: 'Y'all are doing El Paso proud, man. I love what you're doing. I'm sorry. This is my job.'
Dirty River Boys performs at Billy Bob's as part of Willie Nelson's Fourth of July Picnic.