You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Letting Go - Josh ShillingThis post is a contribution from Mountain Heart lead vocalist Josh Shilling. He describes how the band went from what was expected to be an uneventful bus ride to Grey Fox this week, to events that turned them and their bus into a hazard to navigation in New York City.

Five years ago this weekend, I was on my first trip to Grey Fox in New York with the Mountain Heart gang. Oddly enough, we played right before Chris Thile and Nickel Creek. They closed the festival down that year.

This year, Chris is with The Punch Brothers closing the festival last night, and then Mountain Heart closes tonight… AWESOME!

That said, I can’t help but notice another interesting trend about Mountain Heart and Grey Fox: ridiculous bus breakdowns. The first time we were here, the morning after the show our driver ran over a concrete slab at a toll booth, resulting in a burst transmission fluid line. This drained the reservoir and fried our old Eagle’s transmission.

The guys in the band grabbed what we could carry after the bus finally quit, and at like 5:00 a.m. that morning, we jumped in a bunch of cabs in Queens, NY. We made it to the airport and departed from JFK bound for Wyoming. The band made our gig out west, but what started as a tiny fluid leak, turned into something that’s haunted us every since.

This year, after hundreds of shows and countless miles and bus trips, on our 2nd return to Grey Fox since the first incident, we ran into more bus troubles.

We traveled painlessly for two days, and were finally coming into New York in a leased coach after a show Thursday night in New Jersey. This time, we heard some grinding and the bus just stopped moving. I was in the bathroom when I heard the noise, and didn’t realize that we’d stopped at the entrance of The Lincoln Tunnel.

We were blocking every single car from moving and, of course, it was rush hour! The guys in the band got out and started pushing this thing as far as we could, but we still couldn’t get it completely out of the way. So here we are, a bunch of hicks from all over the south, pushing a dang tour bus at The Lincoln Tunnel with hundreds of drivers screaming lots of colorful words at us!

Eventually the police came and demanded that we let the tunnel’s emergency crew tow us immediately. Wayne, our driver, reluctantly said yes after trying to wait for AAA. A tour bus has to be towed a very specific way, and Wayne argued with the tow truck driver for 15 minutes as he wrapped his chains around the bus bumper.

Even with Wayne’s concern, the driver promised us that he would take it easy saying, “I got you, dude.”

Well within a minute or so, this guy gets his tow hook and the front of our bus bound up, and proceeded to rip apart the bumper and the front bottom half of this bus! So, there we were again stopping all the traffic, there’s fluid running everywhere down the tunnel, the tow truck has damage, the bus front-end looks like we hit a brick wall. And at that moment, it starts to absolutely storm like you can’t imagine.


We were pounded by wind, rain, and hail the size of a quarter. We had to unload all our gear into shuttles in a downpour – with cars flying and sliding all around us – and ship everything over to our hotel.

As bad as this all sounds, the promoter of our show talked with the mayor and they rushed the garage and tow company into taking care of us. What we thought was going to be a $10,000 transmission job turned out to be a few hundred dollar fix. The police came and filed a report, and guaranteed insurance to cover all damages from the tow experience. Then our friends at the Sheraton Hotel hooked us up with a stocked VIP suite!

To boot, we had an incredible gig that night on the banks of the Hudson with a enthusiastic crowd (and 70 degree temps), and Aerosmith rolled in late to hang at the Sheraton! What are the chances?

We had an incredible show last night in Long Island…I had a massive Steinway piano waiting on the outdoor stage for me that was donated to the venue by Billy Joel! Of course, I played my version of New York State of Mind for them.

Now we’re off to Grey Fox for the closing of Saturday night. Let’s pray all goes smooth from here on out.

Like I said, you can’t make this stuff up.