We spend the day crossing the length of Tennessee, then check into a motel an hour east of Little Rock, Arkansas, where we pull out the instruments and play for a couple of hours. Later relaxing, we turn on the weather channel, and things begin to get interesting. The anchors are describing in detail how the prime conditions for F4 tornadoes and baseball-size hail are growing in the direction we’re headed tomorrow. Hearing this we become concerned and conjure an alternate route directly north to Kansas, avoiding Oklahoma. After the lights go out we both toss and turn and can’t sleep, thinking about the weather. So right there and then we pack it up and our new plan is to take our original path before the skies turn mean.
Monday, March 21st
In the dark and fresh morning we set out. No problem through Little Rock, the skies are clear and starry all the way to the Oklahoma border where we pass our safety exit north to Fayetteville: we’re now committed to our route. No sooner do we cross the state line when the air turns to smell of ozone and dust, a wicked rain begins to fall, and shafts of lightning flash through the ink black sky. The pit of my stomach drops to my feet. Welcome to Oklahoma. As Sue sleeps I clutch the steering wheel and count off the miles until we take the turn north. 38, 36, 30, 27, 19... Strangely, there’s not much wind, just a lot of fireworks. While the miles tick off, the heavy rain and lightning does not turn to anything worse. It’s exciting, though. Each flash brings up a fresh surge of concern. Damn the weather channel, they’ve done it again: instilled needless fear into another viewer.
Sue writes -
It’s 1:30am, Dana’s driving, and I nod off to sleep. I’m aware of blasts of lightning – I see them through my eyelids – and I wake up now and then to Dana’s gasps. I suspect I’m missing a real show.
After two hours, Dana taps me on the knee: my turn to drive. I open my eyes, wide-awake and ready to go. As he passes the wheel, he also passes the weather, which has shifted from rain and lightning to tremendous gusts of wind. I battle these gusts over the next two hours as the night sky turns to dawn and Dana sleeps soundly. Somehow my sleeping passenger and the soft dashboard lights inside the van make me feel warm and protected against the dark night and howling wind outside. After two hours, I tap Dana on the knee: his turn to drive. And I settle down to sleep some more.
Dana calls this a “road warrior” day, and I get it. Life on the road has taught me, among other things, how to sleep on command (like, arrive at a venue, push four straight-back chairs together, lay down across them, close your eyes and, while people are moving sound equipment all around you, sleep for 15 minutes before sound check). It’s a muscle; when you get good at it, you can start dreaming right away.
As the day alights a hard rain keeps up into Kansas. By 4pm we cross the Colorado border and pull into the town of Burlington. Not much to do but hunker down at some nameless motel. It’s been a long day and we’re beat.
Tuesday, March 22nd
I had the foresight when putting together this tour to route us across Colorado on I-70 through the town of Glenwood Springs, coming and going. Glenwood Springs is a restorative place with a wonderful public hot spring and good restaurants. To the natives, Yampah Hot Spring means “big medicine,” and it will indeed cure what ails you. It’s what I call “happy water.” It’ll melt the crusty grimace off an old geezer. Good timing for this too, for after three days of hard travelin’ we can use some big medicine. We pulled into town early enough for a practice, a soak, and then a meal at Juicy Lucy’s, thus at the conclusion of the night we tuck in like a couple of happy angels ready for whatever the next day will throw at us.
Friday, March 25th
Across Utah we’ve come, and now we pull into Eureka, Nevada in a snow squall. Tonight we perform at the historic Eureka Opera House built in 1880. We traveled half the day upon Rt. 50, “The Loneliest Road in America,” and we’re hoping we won’t have the loneliest gig in America tonight as well. In any event, it’s good to be here. So many great acts have played here through the years. Even just since the theater was restored in 1993 the walls back-stage have been covered with salutations and signatures from singers, musicians, actors, and talent from all over the world. The Grand Hall Auditorium is marvelous: the old wood, the balcony, the painted canvas backdrop, unchanged since it was painted in the 1920’s, the acoustics, and it’s a pleasure just to be in this town and feel like a link in the chain of its history. Thankfully, folks in Nevada think nothing of driving a couple of hours over snowy mountain passes for a bit of entertainment, so the turn-out is respectable.
Downstairs is a gallery for art exhibitions, and currently there are a few pieces about the history of Eureka itself. The Chinese influence in this part of the country is undeniable, but is not well documented. Having come over in the mid to late 1800’s during the boom times of mining and railroad expansion, the west was built in large part by their sober and thrifty toil. However, racism and neglect was pervasive. One exhibit was beautiful calligraphy upon a handmade paper scroll. It read:
“The doctors of Eureka Nevada were highly educated Chinese – During the 1870’s to 1880’s there were at least ten in Eureka – Some brought their wives from China – According to social anthropologist Su-Fon Chong there is no written records of these women – Birth records show male children being born to the doctors – No female child is recorded – There were at least five anti-Celestial societies active in Eureka – There is no remaining evidence of these Chinese”
Another exhibit mentioned of how the Eureka High School was built upon the site of the Chinese graveyard. These simple memorials cast light into dark places. They illustrate with an even hand the nature of the characters involved, and move me to appreciate those without documents and monuments.
Saturday, March 31st
Today we made our final push west over the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The smell of Ponderosa pines greets us as we make the long descent on the western slope of I-80. We roll past Donner Lake, with vistas of granite and snow, slowly the pines give way to deciduous trees newly leafing out. After almost a week on the high plains and desert of the Great Basin, it’s startling to be near sea level again and surrounded by fragrant greenery. With all the rain California has had this winter the landscape is even more lush than usual, and is ever the emerald state, the land of milk and honey.
Now that we’ve come all this way, it’s time to get down to business. We’ve got five house concerts in the next eight days all through north and central California. I’ll tell you; given the right circumstances, I’d be happy playing nothing but house concerts for the rest of my life. They really are what this music is all about. There’s nothing like playing to 50 people sitting in someone’s living room: it’s an immediate, connected, relaxed and spontaneous, friendly, intimate, and acoustic way of presenting this music. That’s what we have to look forward to for our first few gigs of April, which I will no doubt relate to you all in my next Road Essay.
Thanks again for reading! Keep in touch, and all the best,