Played at the Woody Guthrie Museum…you’re never far from his ghost out here. Especially as we amble our way across the red-dirt plains of western Oklahoma. This part of Route 66 seems largely forgotten, desolate at times, towns spread far apart. It is a place largely ignored by chain-establishments, here you’ll find mom-and-pop diners serving pies that they made themselves to the travelers who are out looking for something different, willing to stray a short distance off the freeway.
Last night we said goodbye to Duchess. It was a truckload of fun doing the Rifftime Route 66 Roadshow Revue with them, the girls sounded great and are a hang of superior magnitude. We all busked about Tulsa before the show, even played Mambo Italiano in a restaurant/bar called Hey Mambo!
The remarkable part of it all is that even though we are doing this tour like medieval minstrels, anyone in the world can watch…in real time! That’s a whole lot of story right there!
Stopped at The Cherokee Trading post, but only to entertain the buffalo with a chorus of Cherokee. I think it was the guitar solo that knocked out one of ‘em, had him rolling in the dirt in fact. If you don’t believe it check out the video…everyone’s a critic! It was a remake of a video from last year’s trip and I think they remembered us…hey you guys, two-drink minimum!!!
Making our way to Texas border we always stop in Erick, the birthplace of Roger Miller and home of Harley and Annabelle. They are deservedly the only living landmarks on Route 66. The interstate has not been kind to Erick, the town seems mostly deserted unless you look real close. Generations of denizens are firmly entrenched, dedicated to their home and this patch of the road. A visit with Harley and Annabelle is a must. Alas, they are not around right now due to health reasons, but their spirit is still a tangible presence. While it was eerily quiet, I thought I heard an echo of all the music, hilarity and insanity blowing in the warm breeze, and I hope they knew we were there and sending our best wishes. We did a little tribute video on their porch and if you want to see their act just click here for a video from one of our past trips. While we were there a few travelers stopped by, also saddened that the shop was silent.
As we head westward into the glaring sun, the Texas Panhandle stretches out before us. A cloud-filled blue sky, cows happily munching on knee-high grass, silhouettes of water towers far off on the horizon. We are our way to an evening show at The Cadillac Ranch…that’s our land, a windswept dusty patch of flat prairie with Caddy’s buried at a slant…what’s yours?
Things Ain't What They Used To Be
Crossed the mid-point of Route 66 (Vega, Texas) as the last vestiges of the sun settled beyond the horizon. While we are at the geographical mid-point, it seems like we are much closer to the end than our start almost two weeks ago. Everything stretches out here as the prairie gives way to the desert, towns far apart. As the Dust Bowl migration happened, imagine how difficult, daunting and treacherous this element of the journey was. In a time before air conditioning, cars and tires far less reliable, with vehicles loaded down with a family’s entire belongings, everyone relied on each other or became buzzard fodder real fast. Our van (Vinnie VanGo) is also laden with the heavy burden of five people, equipment and luggage, but it is fairing well, and we are eternally grateful for it’s stoic tenacity.
The mountains, deep red ravines, cacti and adobe buildings of the desert southwest fill the landscape. We decided to take the old alignment of the road, through Santa Fe, looking forward to a day of street hits and hoping for good weather. (So far, every time we have come through it has been raining coyotes and chupacabras).
Hey, we got wi-fi, Starbucks, Trader Joes, Whole Foods? Wow, things ain’t what they used to be!!!
PS> Check out the new Route 66 sings Route 66 video, be there before it goes viral…don’t worry, it’s totally curable
Just like that, things change quickly here in the high desert. We pulled into Santa Fe, had a short walkabout and found out that Roberta Donnay and The Prohibition Mob Band was playing a house concert less than a mile away…and they are also part of the 66 Linear Festival! She asked us to come by, and I ended up playing most of the gig with her (except for a little while, when I had to excuse myself for a short time to do a live interview on KABC Radio in LA…ah, show biz…the smell of the crowd, the roar if the greasepaint!!!) The band plays a fun mix of standards and originals, all 20s/30s inspired. You have probably heard Roberta with Dan Hicks…she is one hot lick!!!
This is what I envisioned for the festival, bands crossing paths, jamming and sharing stories, creating community. After a stellar hang, we stuffed ourselves with New Mexican cuisine (the chiles here are amazing) and margaritas, but not me, I was driving us into Grants, NM for the night. And it was a good thing cuz: Bang Bang, we got rear-ended by someone who had!!! It was a big one, but luckily, we were going the same direction and I pushed us out of his way as best I could. He swerved over, almost hitting some other guys, and I pulled over to inspect the damage. A pickup truck made chase, maybe he got hit too? Luckily, the damage wasn’t too bad, just a crushed bumper and a dent in the tailgate, but it still works (sure would be hard to get the bass out any other way!) I got back in and we headed west, and sure enough the guy was pulled off to the side of the road, I began to pull over to get his info and wham…he gunned it right into traffic, just missing us and taking on a huge semi, needless to say he didn’t fare too well, and he spun out into the median.
A man named Jeremiah had seen the whole thing—even his first smack on me—and had pulled over to give aid. The driver was so soused he couldn’t even talk! We wrested the keys so he couldn’t try and drive away but he just passed out in the front seat after some garbled utterances. The cops arrived, we made the report and continued on our journey, thankful for how lucky we were that no one was hurt, not too much damage and that we had Jeremiah there too. You all: please be safe out there! Life may not be serious, but it sure is dangerous!!!
Morning brought a beautiful cloud-filled New Mexican sky, warm velvety air and a gentle breeze. We crossed the Continental Divide, now it feels like we can coast the rest of the way home if we have to. The tour has been fun, exciting, and I will admit tedious at times. Lots of miles traveled, and lots more before we’re home. Looking forward to our upcoming hit at La Posada, an historic Harvey House in Winslow, AZ. Until then, ‘Take it Easy’ everybody…chow for now!!!
Vinnie can take a punch!!!
Along The Navajo Trail
Everyday, along about evening
When the sunlight is beginning to fail
I ride, through the slumbering shadows
Along the Navajo Trail
The swirls of red in deep ravines change hue as the sunlight changes. The Painted Desert has a visual movement even though it stands still…mystical, harsh and haunting, home of the Navajo and Hopi. It’s no wonder they are such deeply spiritual and stoic people. Their movements and responses seem slow to a person who moves at my speed. Yet, the gravity of their thought and their solidity and humanity exudes a deep connection to this place.
La Posada, a southwestern-style hacienda and original Harvey House, sits on the rail line in Winslow Arizona. Well over a century ago, this was a place where migrating easterners came for a respite from of the harshness of the west. Fred Harvey developed a model of consistency and quality, where travelers could get good food, a clean place to sleep if they so desired before they continued their journey. The Harvey Houses’ model is the blueprint for every chain-establishment we have in this country: McDonalds, Howard Johnson, Holiday Inn…you name it. His driving desire to create a reliable experience that travelers could count on had never existed before the Harvey Houses. It changed the world.
As the car replaced train travel, these places had all been bypassed (foreshadowing what would happen between the Interstate highways and Route 66, decades later) and thanks to visionary people like Allen Affeldt, artists Tina Mion, Daniel Lutzick and other historical societies and preservationists these places now once again flourish.
A selfie? On the gig? Yikes!
La Posada is always a homecoming of sorts for us on the trip. We are now less than ten hours drive from the Pacific Ocean. The beauty and serenity here provides a place to regroup, energized to finish off the journey. We played a concert in the grand ballroom, ate in the historic dining hall and then played a few tunes as we watched the trains roll by, rhythmically slicing their path through the high desert, along the Navajo Trail.
California Here I Come
Some might call it a run for the border, but we’ve been out here for two weeks, almost 5,000 miles. Through Flagstaff and Williams, the gateway to The Grand Canyon, we made our way west through vibrant fields of yellow wildflowers.
Took the old road up in the mountains to the southwest of Kingman. Into the old mining town of Oatman, where Clark Gable got stranded on his honeymoon…not by his wife Carole Lombard…by his car! The town is now famous for the donkeys that run amok in the streets extorting food out of tourists. They are advertised as wild donkeys, but speaking as an avid horseman, I’ve never seen wild equines clipped like this? Their hooves well cared-for, and jennies happy to let a human touch their practically newborn foals? They must be descendants of burros left behind when miners panned out the area and went bust. Good to see they are thriving, although they should cut back on the potato chips if you ask me. One even inspected our bumper…I guess he’s moonlighting as an insurance adjuster?
This is desolate and inhospitable country. I can only imagine the Dust Bowl migrants, on their way to California, with promises of lush vegetation, the land of milk and honey, only to experience a long hot treacherous journey over the mountains, then cross the state line into the Mojave Desert. Must have seemed like a cruel and surreal joke.
We dropped out of the mountains and into the plain of the Colorado River, which divides California and Arizona and supplies much of the water for the thirsty southwest in these drought-stricken times. Crossed into Needles for hit at The Red Dog Saloon. We met up with John Bergstrom, cowboy singer and historian, who was doing the early show, and streaming it as part of the Rifftime Route 66 Linear Festival. John is doing some more things out on the road, then meeting up with us for the Saturday night Finish-Line Party at Viva Cantina, August 9…come on out to Burbank!
Had an enthusiastic crowd in Needles, it was lots of fun and then we decided to blast home. We could smell the Pacific air like it was taunting us…or at least thought we could. Since we’d traveled the old road on the way to Chicago, and stopped at The Bagdad Café, had gone through Amboy, Barstow and Victorville, it just felt right to sleep in our own beds for a change. That and crossing the Mojave at night isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever had. For that: just ask the band!!!
We are still on the tour though, stay tuned for our Duarte Show, this Thursday, August 7, at Westminster Gardens, a serene outdoor setting, bring a picnic! The address is: 1420 Santo Domingo, @ 6:00. We’re gonna stream it, but nothing like the experiencing the real thing if you can. We are planning to make the trip out on the Santa Monica Pier Friday around noon too…right back where we started from!!!
Crazy? Me? Well, some of you might think I’m crazy…and the rest of you know I am! Was it that far-fetched to dream up this hazy scheme? I didn’t seem so to me…at least not at first. Route 66 is intertwined in our culture and represents a time before our turn towards generic. No cookie-cutter anything…except cookies! When a big part of it all was not just the arrival, but the getting there.
Music is like that, we have a sound in our head, we work and strive, and along the way, influence and experiences help to refine it and send it in unexpected directions. And when we get better…or even good…we just want to stay on the path, to find the next sound. Getting there is better than being there!
Thinking that bands would take to the road, and create their own community, join up with others and use emerging technology to share it with their fans is not crazy. Hopeful, optimistic…maybe? But I do feel a responsibility in this time of major transition (due to technology, economics and a huge cultural shift) to help define a path to a more connected and meaningful future for my peers and students. I know, lofty, but hey, I thought it up, and the only failure is not to try!
Well, we actually did it, and are the first! Now, there are dozens of shows, concerts, jams and crazy (that word again) interactions archived, that were streamed in real time to the world via a handheld phone…even Dick Tracy would’ve been impressed! Now the corridor is full of new friends, and if it seems just a little more hopeful that we can turn the steering wheel back toward community I am pleased. I met countless people dedicated to what might at first seem like a losing battle, but it is their home, their life, and their story, it won’t go away. Our music won’t either, and no matter what genre (or combination of genres) it is, we have that in common. Life isn’t about music, music is about life!
Thanks to Rifftime, who wants to provide tech support and community for musicians, for coming along in this crazy (that word again) venture.
We have created immediacy: now people can stay in touch in a way never before realized, hardly even imagined.
We have created community: groups of people now know that they have a world of kindred spirits out there and have a strong foundation for growth.
We have created a migration: Down an old road that represents America’s robust spirit to strike out on new paths, take chances and search for something new and better. Taking the old road into a new world.
This is driving me sane!!! And there is still more to come!!!
Singin a tune in Needles
Made it! After 5,000 mile round trip on highways and byways, gigs and giggles, and steps and missteps, we were out on the pier, the Pacific Ocean daring us to try and go any further. Nah!!! The concert last night in Duarte, a central part of the Route 66 experience in LA, was a sunset-lit tree-laden park setting, lots of folks, with the music winding down just as the last hint of light drained out of the sky. More than 350 folks, that’s what they said, what a homecoming! Mary Barrow, one of LA’s most ardent jazz fans and the best hang in the San Gabriel Valley put it all together and then threw us a party…thanks Mary!
A big part of this story is just that, the community that develops when people get together, share and make something happen. Music is a great rallying point, and the sheer warmth and generosity we experienced on this trip is staggering. You are all my heroes. You prove—to me at least—that the idea of striking out on a quixotic quest (windmills be damned), living in the moment and having faith in fellow humans is not folly. It also shows that taking risks, while scary, prove to be stimulus for growth and enlightenment.
Why would a guy, who has a lot of gigs already, has a teaching position, does recording projects, and has to leave a dog behind at home do this? Because of all of you…that’s why! It reminds me of why I play music in the first place. To find the sound that resonates with the world around me, to take chances, and trust my instincts, believing that I will somehow find the right note, chord or sound that sets everything on the right axis. To experiment, find another way, and challenge my imagination to make the most of whatever comes my way…and doing my best to leave expectations behind. I will always look back at all of these trips with a sense of gratitude and accomplishment–from the first challenge where we left with only $100 and made it the whole way, to this Linear Festival, where we found a new use for technology and social media and I had the accompaniment of other like-minded artists and groups–they have been the kind of stories that inform and give a humble perspective to the journey. Thanks to all of you for your participation, spirit and willingness to go out on the edge with us.
Some musicians think it is their own sound design and painting that makes all this work, but I think that you who listen and share your lives with us are what make this a completed experience. I appreciate your input, I am deeply effected by your interactions, and yes, I am stingingly disappointed at times by your choice to disengage from a heartfelt attempt to reach out…but it is your option, and I respect that. I warn you that it merely inspires me to try and be more badass, to get you away from the phone or camera, and make you unafraid to meet me halfway.
There’s more, a party, and lifetime of friendship, community and more music, and some words from my fellow travelers…and more, much more than this, we did it our way.
Wow! What a rousing finish…rather than fade away and skulk home to lick our wounds, we held court and had a stellar party at Viva Cantina, a jam-packed finish to an amazing couple of weeks. Numerous bands and dozens of musicians took part. The Rifftime Route 66 Linear Music Festival (the first of it’s kind) is now officially in the books. Incredibly, not only was the world able to view it by going out on the road and finding it along the route, they had the opportunity to watch it in real time anywhere in the world…and it is still archived at route66.rifftime.com and all my blogs are here at: cowboproute66.com
Please pay close attention, as I want to take the time to acknowledge and thank many who helped out (and this is dicey, because I know I will miss some of you…please forgive! Or better yet: let me know, I will add you!!!)
To the folks at Rifftime: David, Lance, Krystina et al, your vision for an online music community that provides tech support to musicians and creates a place where bands, fans, venues and writers can work together is admirable and much needed. I hope that my efforts have helped that vision become reality. I know we had many challenges, this kind of trip had never been done before, and I think it is a paradigm that will emerge to become a viable means for touring in the 21st century. Thanks for believing in my idea, and for working so hard to make it a reality.
To Jim Recabaren: A colleague, a new friend, a man of vision and energy. Thanks for all your planning wisdom, your get-it-done attitude and for getting the American Cancer Society involved, for adding an extra humanitarian element to this saga.
To Bill Kane: To you and your family for the Chicago hospitality, you are a great man who does great things, we couldn’t have done this without you.
To Margi and Bruce: Home Sweet Home! You guys are the nicest, most generous friends anyone could have. Thanks for the fun!
To Gus Gordon: The first-class job you do at the Hoogland Center for the Arts, they are lucky to have you and we are fortunate to work with you, looking forward to the next!
To Terry Thompson: A friend in the truest sense of the word. Thanks for putting us up, putting up with us, your generosity and being Cow Bop‘s biggest advocate. St. Louis is now home away from home, because of you!
To Michael Gassman (The Big Tomato) and Judy: A trip down the road just isn’t complete without you. Thanks for your friendship, for your caring commitment to the community, keeping an iconic piece of Collinsville alive for generations…and of course, both of your supremely over-the-top jollification factor!
To Janet and Shelby: You guys looked out for us, encouraged us and showed us the true meaning of what it is to be a friend…Shelby, that you came to the gig on the day of your surgery…Iron Man!!! Heal quickly and completely, we need your fiddle playing gracing us all again soon!
John Wooley: Your writing is inspiring, your knowledge of Western Swing music and history is staggering, thanks for teaching me so much. But most of all, thanks for your generosity, your kind, caring words at the show in Tulsa and for always being there for us, every time we make this trip.
Michael Wallis: The man of Route 66! Thanks for your insights and your book, which inspired us on every trip. Your perspective, which informs us to the importance of the road, teaches us all what it means to be a citizen and an American. Thanks for your words of support for what we are doing. You once said that there were five things that kept Route 66 alive throughout its history: the original migration (Woody Guthrie), the Bobby Troup song, the TV show, your book and Cars…I hope we will prove to be number six! A man can dream!
Duchess: That you guys came out from NY and took a chance to experience all of this, you win a Cow Bop road medal. You were great addition to our time in Oklahoma, I know we are going to hear a lot more from you!
Rick and Terry: Not sure whether to thank or curse you? Those parties are epic, and if we do much more of that we are gonna have to go into training first. Your generosity and fun factor….music, shuffleboard, and everything, I am still laughing…we took it to another level…I hope you don’t do that every day!!! On second thought…why not?
Dewain Manek: Saving our ass and giving us the warmest and most memorable of welcomes, right when we needed it most…in a monsoon!!!
Greg Johnson at The Blue Door: Great club, the walls ooze music. Thanks for bailing us out, understanding…even if you did bust my bells for it…we’ll be back!
To La Posada: Magical place, always. Thanks for rehabilitating a piece of history, making it the jewel is it and for welcoming us they way you do.
Linda Fitzpatrick: Needles was great, great to see some people taking the initiative to revive the Harvey House and the Theater. Your commitment to community is inspiring and is the essence of the spirit of Route 66.
To Mary Barrow: Wow! I can’t imagine what the LA music world would be without you! Your spirit, support, love and sincere generosity make a difference in so many lives. We (musicians) all appreciate you more than you will ever know. Cow Bop sends our undying admiration and appreciation for your tireless work in putting together the show in Duarte and the party. You bring out the best in everything!
To Cody, my brother from another mother (and everybody at Viva Cantina): There is no greater home club in all of the world. Thanks for listening to my stories, providing ideas and support, going along good-naturedly, and for hosting the party at the end of the trail. Looking forward to next Saturday, and to hundreds more next Saturdays, happy birthday to you!
To Brick Wahl: I am continually impressed by your unique voice, your uncommonly twisted yet concise and exacting perspective. For me, that is what writing is about. Thanks for covering the trip, guiding me through this blogging process and talking me down after that drunk guy hit us. For the rest of you, read his blog. Brick is the real deal, context, heart, and imagination. Thanks again, Brick!!!
Kudos to Jack Cimo and the LA Duo: You guys made the whole trip…brag on it!!!
Most of all, to the band: I know I ran every element of your daily life, and you had to play under some of the most strange and difficult circumstances. We took it to the outer limits and experienced things that will solidify our family and take the music to the next level. Thanks for your understanding, support, professionalism and insanity…you can all go back to your regular programming.
In their own words:
Pinto Pammy: I feel like such a pro at Route 66 (sounds like a board game!) I’ve done it now five times with Cow Bop, and once by myself before I met Bruce…that’s a lot of miles! It’s a BIG drive that doesn’t get easier as you get older. But a lot of fun was had because of wonderful, helpful friends along the way. Personal thanks to: Bill and Mandy (Chicago), Margi and Bruce (Springfield, IL), Mike and Judy, Terry and Sue (St. Louis), Terri and Rick and Janet and Shelby (Tulsa), Tina Mion of La Posada (Winslow), Mary Barrow (Duarte)…oh, there were others, but it’s really just a blur now.
And another big thank you to the most positive thinking and tenacious person I know, Bruce Forman. As I said, it isn’t always easy or fun on the road, but Bruce constantly had his “eye on the prize” and kept all us Cow Boppers laughing and making beautiful music together (OK, a little tequila might have been involved now and then).
It took almost a village to keep the home fires burning while we were gone, what with the house, garden (it was 100 degrees here!) and most importantly Joey the border collie; so thank you Ellen, Emily and Ryan, and our sweet Sabrina.
Thanks for the memories Route 66 – see ya!
Ryan McDiarmid: “You see this boys? This is called a map!” Bruce joked with us while in the car. What a wild ride it was down the Mother Road…full of adventure, mishaps, exhaustion, hilarity, and lots of music as we traveled across much of the historic route’s pink, weed-ridden, cracked pavement through what seemed like a time-machine. I (as well as many others in my generation, I’m sure) had a hard time imagining a pre-corporate American culture and it was a great experience to peer into what little is left of that history while on our Route 66 tour. Driving through some fairly unforgiving landscape, whether it be the barren Texas panhandle or the dark, churning skies of an Oklahoma thunderstorm, one can’t help but imagine the fearless, adventurous spirit that many of the earliest Route 66 travelers must have had. You couldn’t count on a Jiffy Lube, Wal Mart, or Starbucks (NOOOOOO!) being in every town or being able to pull out your cell phone if you have a suspicion that you’re lost. Having not traveled much before joining the band, it was also great to see some of the places that the songs we play are written about and you really begin to see the connection between landscape and music. You realize that music can act as an aural map of the world. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to experience a part of American culture that I might have never seen if it weren’t for this tour and couldn’t have asked for a better experience thanks to Bruce, Pammy and the guys in the band!
Tino Tafarella: What an exciting tour! I’m still trying to process what just happened… so many cool people, places and events condensed in such a short time. Even the time we spent driving was filled with excitement, from driving through tornadoes in the making, to dodging drunk drivers. I got to experience traditional America through the people that opened their homes to us, the audiences we played for, and all of the friends I made. One thing I learned for sure is that Route 66 is an invaluable part of American tradition, where hospitality, hard work, and a strong sense of community still thrive. A huge thank you to Bruce, our leader, mentor and friend.
Route 66: One man’s vision in the 1920s, to knit together existing roads, paths and gullies to bring the country together, still stands. No longer a harbinger of what is to come, it represents our past: our struggles, accomplishments, our joy and sorrow, a symbol of promises kept and things forgotten. From a time when individuality was a given, just a part of being American, the road is populated with some of our most tenacious, inventive, colorful and committed citizens.
Music is the fabric that knits it all together, making a tapestry that tells a story…our collective story. To all of the people who give so much of themselves to make a brilliant present and work towards a brighter future through community, you are Route 66…Long Live Route 66!