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I have put this off long enough, here's the end of the story.
It's Wednesday, October 12th as I wind through Sam Houston National Forest on farm road 1725, I finally pull up to Backwoods Bar & Grill. I know I’m in the right place as my friend Jess is waving me in and onto a waiting space right next to the patio along the side. I hardly recognize the place from my last trip to the Houston area 3 years earlier when the inside was still bare and the place was still just a work in progress. Now, a bustling hub for a big rural community, Backwoods was busy with it’s own family of regulars and a constant stream of bikers passing through on the days ride.
On Thursday night, Jess and I ventured down into Houston to meet up with an amazing songwriter and friend of mine through the Folk Alliance, Ken Gaines. He had invited me to be a part of his songwriter night at the legendary club Anderson Fair. This place was amazing and I learned has been hosting the troubadours of the acoustic/folk since the 1960’s. Ken has hosted a night there for years, along with his cohort and fellow member of the Hawaiian shirt club Wayne Wilkerson. Both of these guys are amazing artists and a real treat to share the bill with. Thanks so much!
Friday was a special night and I was thrilled to get such a warm welcome from everyone there and also proud to see that over her years of traveling the world, Jessica has really honed her harmonica skills. We had a great night of music and such an amazing time with all gang. I stayed with Jessica and all the folks at Backwoods for about 5 days, taking care of lots of little things needing attention at that point in the trip. A much needed rest in the schedule, I did laundry, vacuumed, washed dishes and cleaned out the fridge, quickly filling it with food as Jessica is not just a bar owner but a trained chef as well. It was so nice to get to those things that keep the road feeling like home. Hoping that my overheating problem was something super simple, Travis replaced the thermostat praying that would do the trick. Unfortunately, I later found out that wasn’t the problem, so on I went, knowing it wasn’t the thermostat at least. I pulled out of town and headed east to my next stop in Austin.
Still having issues with the cooling system, I had a not so relaxing but beautifully scenic trip through the beautiful rolling hills of Central Texas. Booking this tour, I figured that Austin is to musicians what Hollywood is to actors. Saturated with talent, I could not get any response from anyone in Austin, even folks that I knew through the Folk Alliance were a dead end. Hmm... Not surprised to see people with cardboard signs asking for change at every, no exaggeration, evry stop light. Happy to stop for the night, as it was a long way to come with a touchy cooling system, I pulled into driveway of Ventura’s own Rusty Villa and his darling wife Kendra at their sweet Austin home. Although I only had a short visit with them en route to southern New Mexico, it was great to reconnect and catch up over whiskey, smoke and burritos. “Rusty Chrome” told me all about his current project, a step van he is busy converting to a burrito bus. Can’t wait to check it out on my next visit to my Texan crew. Viva Burritos!!
I was happy to have squeezed in a visit with Bob Sokol and Alan McGill at Bob’s shop. I had crossed paths with Bob online, as he and Alan are both school bus folk and in fact were getting busy with a current bus project of Alan’s. I got a tour of Bob’s shop, met his daughter and a few other friends, and most importantly got a little dog action from the very lovable Ethel, official shop dog. We hmm’d and haw’d about the overheating issue, going over the obvious things and I played a few songs for them before heading back on the road. All in all, I had a wonderful trip through Texas, the lone star state. I feel like that leg of the trip was the most difficult as I had such a long way between shows and was relieved to arrive in Las Cruces, NM with time to relax and prepare for the show at Black Box Theatre that night.
The Black Box Theater is home to the No Strings theater group and the stage was a set from the current production. Just a small audience that night as it was an unusual Thursday night show, but we had a great time and I was happy to see that my friend and house concert host Lee Herman showed up for the first set before needing to run off to another commitment. Back on the road I was heading toward the end of my trip when I came across a border patrol checkpoint. They asked me how many people in the bus and when I answered, just me, clearly they had to check for themselves or be negligent. So, although the welcome mat reads, “Come back with a warrant”, I welcomed them to take a look and told them I understand why they need to and appreciate their service. They asked me to step out and stand alongside the road with one officer, while another came up with a dog heading for the bus. I stood there chatting about music and travel with the agent while the dog with the agent in the bus went berserk.
After about 5 minutes, three of the agents, including the dog ask me “You know what the dog is for right?” I said, “Yes, I know what the dog’s for”. I then explained that I am a medical cannabis patient and advocate and feared that they would leave my world piled on the side of the road as I know has happened to many school buses over the years. They informed me that they were not concerned with my small amount of cannabis and really weren’t interested in ruining my night but were working to stop drug smugglers and human trafficking on the border there. I assured them I had nothing else that would be of interest to them. They let me know that they put everything back where it was and asked me to “Next time, take the Interstate 40.” God bless them for not wasting time and money on my bag and me, we all know there are bigger fish to fry along the border. I wished them well and they waved as I pulled off back onto the dark southwestern highway and into the night towards Tucson. Phew!
I picked up my friend April at the Greyhound station, she had come down from Phoenix to meet me celebrate her birthday with a lil trip aboard “Patience”. My hosts June & Michael were amazing and I had a perfect spot in the driveway, plugged in and air conditioner on. I had met June several years prior at the Sharlot Hall Folk Festival in Prescott but hadn’t seen her again til that night. This was their first house concert and they did a fabulous job transforming the backyard into a really sweet, intimate venue. We had a diverse crowd of friends show up and most came with a favorite dish for the potluck. Enchilada showdown, Tucson style! We had a colorful spread for dinner and my music and stories were well received by the group leaving us all satisfied and happy at the end of the night. Before leaving town, I played an afternoon show at The Glass Onion, an unlikely little café in Tucson that is decorated with music memorabilia and art. A local musician that frequents the place showed up to make us feel welcome and get a tour of the infamous bus. I played two sets for a thin crowd and was starting to feel the end of the tour was near.
After a very difficult time with the bus, we finally made it back to Phoenix, I dropped April back at home and got some R&R that I desperately needed at the nearby Wal-Mart. I greeted Monday morning with a sleepy smile and met April at Denny’s to get her free birthday breakfast and then got some bus chores done, taking the afternoon for just chillin. Just before 5, I headed over to Fiddler’s Dream, an oasis in the desert for singer/songwriters and acoustic music. This tiny listening room is one of my all time favorite venues and as we had before, Annie Moscow and I shared the stage, trading song for song. As always, the crowd that gathers at Fidd’s are true music lovers and readily support travelers like me by putting money in the tip jar and buying CDs among other things. It was the perfect finale show to my six-week journey and I felt like I was ready to head home.
Problems with the cooling system made way for electrical issues and by midnight that night, I was down for the count, too tired to climb up on the bus and make heads or tails. I stayed at a rest stop just west of Tonopah that night with choruses of the legendary trucker's anthem "Willin" by Little Feat. The light of the morning found me a bit more able to cope and it seems that the bulk of my problems were stemming from the main bolt holding my alternator to the engine. Old and stripped, this bolt caused so much vibration that it was effecting lots of what was happening under the hood. I limped the bus back to the east and the last truck stop I saw, hoping that the service bay would be able to help me with new bolt and get me home. Sure enough, they had the bolt I needed, just a half an inch too short. (Sigh) As I do when I am overtired and feeling defeated, I had a good cry and then got back out there to find a solution. A trucker walked up with a tiny little Chihuahua and after we talked for a bit, he agreed to take me further east to the Lowe’s for the right bolt. We had good conversation and I got some more dog attention, which made it all worthwhile, and he even insisted on replacing the bolt for me. I jumped back on the interstate by about 5pm; drove til my eyes crossed and finally made it home to my mother’s arms the next afternoon.
It’s funny, when people ask about my tours; they want to hear that it was incredible, fabulous and amazing. Truth is, that’s true, it is all those things but it’s also very hard work. It can be exhausting, lonely, painful and boring. I even feel a little traumatized when I get back, feeling like I’d been through a war of sorts. But the friends I meet along the way and the places I see make it all worth it. Now, I think a short hiatus is in order. This spring I will focus on my next project and getting my newest songs recorded in studio. I have just moved to a new house in Ventura where the bus will park along side the house and I feel like all my ducks are in a row, so to speak, for a prosperous 2011. Bless you and your family in this coming year.