During sound check at the Granada in Dallas, Cary Ann and Michael play parts of every song Michael has chosen for tonight’s set list. A lingering cold means that Cary Ann can’t quite hit some of her usual notes, so they adjust accordingly, and after a little more than an hour, they go for another walk.
Townes, the brindle hound, comes along again, but this time the baby stays with Julie, the blue-haired “rock ’n’ roll Mary Poppins.” Julie is one of eight other adults riding on the tour bus, all of whom chip in with caring for Louie and Townes in addition to more standard tour responsibilities. Michael says he thinks of it “like any other small mom-and-pop business, where we balance each other out with our strengths and our weaknesses and divide and conquer.” To Cary Ann, life on the bus is more like a ship. “Everyone has their jobs, everything has its place, and every morning you wake up in a new town.”
They’d like to have more kids soon, and they’d like to take those kids out on the road with them, too. At least until “school becomes a thing,” as Michael puts it. Then there’s the possibility of homeschooling, but they’ll deal with that when it’s time. If the kids love music, maybe they’ll join the band.
“That’s my dream,” Cary Ann says. “It’s kind of the point of this band.”
She’s quick to add that they’ll support their kids’ dreams no matter what, like their parents have with them. “If you’re into music, we’ll get behind you and help you,” she says, imagining the conversation with her kids—wherever it might take place. “But if you’re trying to be a sailor or something, if that’s what your passion is, we’ll invest in your sails.”
As they walk block to block with the dog, they talk about growing older, about the new worry with cholesterol numbers, about Michael’s father’s gut-wrenching battle with Alzheimer’s. They talk about trying to secure themselves financially in case there’s a time when it’s not feasible for them to be on the road so much. Then Townes squats, and Michael produces a small bag and retrieves it.
Soon their team—which handles everything from merchandise to the sound board to the tour management—gathers backstage. Michael and Cary Ann put the baby to bed on the bus. Cary Ann puts on her makeup, and they both get dressed for the show. Then they “kiss the baby,” a nightly ritual where everyone passes around a bottle of tequila or whiskey and takes a shot. Then it’s show time.
The theater is packed. It’s mostly people in their 30s, professionals enjoying a weeknight out. The lines at the bars are long. When Cary Ann and Michael take the stage, there’s a prolonged roar. Vintage film clips are projected onto rugged planks of wood behind them as they play, rotating through acoustic and electric guitars, a drum kit, a mandolin, a shaker, a keyboard, a harmonica. There’s some polite banter, enough for everyone to hear her sugary accent, and they play a mix of haunting ballads and foot-stomping sing-alongs and heavy, almost grungy rock. People near the stage can see the couple looking at each other, but even in the very back you can feel the energy they’re generating together.
When the show ends, they unwind with a nightcap on the bus and try for sleep. The last of the gear is loaded around 2 a.m., and they head off into the night. Tomorrow they’ll wake up in a new city hundreds of miles away.