In my mind, the whole state of Texas looks like the set of Lonesome Dove, and people go around saying things like “You pigs get on down to the river if you want to eat that snake.” And in my mind there are trillions of said snakes there…rattlesnakes, water moccasins…and death by the bite of these killers is imminent. Everything is brown and dusty and there is an obvious hierarchy of cowboys. Women respond to that hierarchy and behave accordingly. And actually, this is still a pretty accurate depiction of WEST Texas, which we drove through without incident and felt quite lucky. Then the air takes on a damp weight and the land starts to blush in a shade a green.
By the time you hit Austin, there is an intense muggy heat, the ground is exploding with every vegetation imaginable, and the vibe is very, very hip. We had only a little time there, but our gracious friend and host, Michael (who plays in Good Field, Hendrikz McLeod, and many other notable projects), filled that time with the perfect activities. We swam in a large, refreshing river that previously had been a barren, rocky river bed for the past couple of years, due to the drought. That experience makes you feel pretty lucky. Then we checked out some of Austin’s best music venues: The Mohawk and The White Horse. The next morning we had an amazing breakfast at the Bouldin Creek Coffeehouse Cafe and sadly headed out of town.
Our next stop was Memphis but we headed right into the tornado activity and had to hunker down in Waco, instead. The rain came down in such sheets that we lost visibility, so we pulled off the highway with most everybody else. Then the hail hit. We thought it might even bust our windshield. Every gas station, car wash, and hotel carport had 10-15 cars huddling in for protection. Later that night, we saw news footage showing 18-wheelers tossed high into the air and flipping around and around all the way down. It was an unbelievable sight. Had we kept driving, we would’ve gone right into the thick of it all. As it was, we escaped the damage and merely had a long drive to Memphis the next day. Sounds like that area of the country is still battling tornadoes and we sure hope everybody stays safe out there.
We pulled into muggy Memphis and got to stay at a friend’s house for two nights, which was such a treat (thanks again Anna and Aaron!).We filled ourselves with Central BBQ (which was unbeatable, in my book) and had a great show at the Blind Bear. The Blind Bear is a speakeasy style bar that is beautifully designed and operated by Jeannette and Jamie West. We had such a good time in that sexy, swanky bar, that we’ve decided to return! We’ll be there on Wednesday, May 2nd, and head back to Arizona the next day.
The next day, we headed to Knoxville, TN, to do the Blue Plate Special radio show for WDVX. This is pretty much the coolest idea I’ve ever seen. They have a gorgeous set up right in the Knoxville visitor center and they do these live shows (usually 2 or 3 bands per show) at noon, six days a week, so they do about 600 musical acts a year. Since it’s at noon, everybody comes in during their lunch break, and the tourists come in on Saturdays. The announcer introduces everybody and relays some pertinent information and the crowd gets a super intimate show, for free, almost every day. It was a well-oiled machine of highly professional people (all of them volunteers, I think) and on top of that, the acts get to reach countless listeners all over the country, either in their cars or streaming on their computers. We really enjoyed our time there and hope more places around this country follow this model. Thank you, WDVX!
We had a gig that same day in Asheville, NC, so we had to drive on out of Knoxville without exploring much, which was a shame. We pulled into Asheville in time to walk around a bit and had an amazing dinner at the LAB, which is a brewery, restaurant, and music venue in one. We were set to play at the Emerald Lounge, with Mystery Cult and Darien Crossley. It’s a sad and ironic truth that we don’t get to see much music on the road, nor do we get to meet other musicians since everyone’s on a similar schedule. So this was a fortunate experience. We really enjoyed the variety in music among our new friends, and Mystery Cult even invited us back to their place to crash that night. They were so welcoming and giving…and, as it turns out, quite crafty, too! They had painted about 40 Easter eggs and hung them from a tree on stage. Oh, and they were in full bunny costumes. In my mind, they look like that at all their shows. Oh, and Carolyn makes “monster hoods” by hand, and Tyler scored one! Only a picture will explain that…stay tuned. Darien headlined the evening with her beautiful songs, rich in melody and poetry. It was a surprise indeed to find out she had just turned 18. I wish I had that kind of old soul outlook when I was that age. We will surely watch her do grand things throughout the years.
The next day was Easter and we headed to the Carl Sandburg Home. We arrived just in time to get the last tour through the house, which was left to the National Park Service so that the next generations could tour it and learn about this poet, civil rights worker, Pulitzer prize winner (3 of them!), biographer, and folk singer. Sandburg’s wife, Lilian Steichen, raised goats (and 3 daughters) and was known nation-wide for her booming business. Lilian’s goat lineage remains at the home today, and was a major motivator for our trip. Every activity should include at least one goat.
We drove to Charlotte for the night and saw what appeared to be a very popular BBQ joint. We decided to check in to our hotel and grab some dinner; we were pretty hungry and looking forward to a restful night. We walked in to the Woodshed and saw that the place was hoppin’. Tons of people were partying. I take that back. Many many MEN were partying. With their shirts off. Pat, the host, told us it was a $3 cover, the Woodshed was celebrating its 10th anniversary, and that it was a gay bar. The latter information was overwhelmingly obvious. “Ok, do you have food?” “No.” “Alright, we’ll just have cocktails for dinner, then…May I have a vodka and soda?” “We’re out of vodka.” Seriously. This bar had run out of vodka. It was a night we will never forget. All the proceeds went to a local charity, so we were happy to stuff some $1 bills down the “cleavage” of the two owners dressed in over-the-top drag as they danced and lip-sang to “It’s Raining Men” and other appropriate hits from the 80s. Thanks to all the “Woodshed Widows” who made us feel SO welcome and showed us a grand time, even though we unintentionally crashed their party. By the way, we hope to crash your 20th anniversary in similar style.
At this point in the trip, we had a few days off and thought we should camp out, rest, and maybe get some writing done. We camped at Oyster Point, near the coast.
Osprey nest on the Neusiok Trail
There are several by-water places near the coast, so I couldn’t tell you how close the Atlantic even was. But there was water. And there were alligators. An alligator had eaten someone’s dog in that campground a couple years back. Sounds like a terrible vacation. It was nice to camp and have some beers around the campfire but it got fairly cold and blustery. The wind picked up and we huddled in our tent over a game of Settlers of Catan (judge if you will, but it’s a brilliant game that we play shamelessly). A woman had solicited us earlier in the day for some kayak rentals, which was something that interested us. We had exchanged cards with Amy and hoped to go out on the water the next day. Well, she called that evening and thought we might be cold and miserable and offered us a place to stay at their cabin down the way. We declined that night but the next day was still cold and windy so we took her up on it.
That was the beginning of an amazing connection. We got to her fantastic house on the water, got a bit settled and took two kayaks out on the Harlowe Canal.
Miller paddles confidently through alligator-infested waters.
Turns out we were the very first customers of Osprey Adventures! And we highly recommend it. Amy is super experienced with boats and knows a ton about the area, both scientifically and historically. She’s the woman for the job! We ended up biting off more than we could chew (we had a much longer way to go (into the strong headwinds) than we knew) and she rescued our novice butts and took us home. We warmed up and chatted with Amy and her family throughout the evening. We had such a good time that my mother wondered aloud over the phone if she might be replaced. They sent us off well-rested, educated, and fully loved. They even came to our Beafort show on the coast a few nights later. Thanks for everything, Salters!
From there we had 3 coastal shows in Swansboro, New Bern, and Beaufort, thanks to the Down East FolkArts Society. We had fantastic audiences and, like a house concert, they provided us with an opportunity to tell our stories. We got to dine with Down East folks and stay with host families on our last two nights and everyone we met made us feel all rosy. Many thanks to the Swans and the Millers for opening their lovely homes to us! We stopped off at the Backstreet Pub in Beaufort after our show and had drinks with some audience members who tried to ply us with free booze in the hopes we’d sing more Patsy Cline, but we just chatted and generally giggled instead. That is a magical pub and we were in great company.
From there, we did an actual house concert in Durham with the Cool/Hart clan. They had a full cocktail/speakeasy party with their FANTASTIC friends and kids, and we had a blast. The cocktails and rowdy guests made for a grand time. Special thanks to Miss Mary for flying in from Portland, Oregon, for the event. See you again in June, darlin’. We have fallen deeply in love with the state of North Carolina, and it is because of all the people we’ve met in just the last week. We will most certainly return, friends. Thank you!
Up next: Tumbledown House manages to leave Myrtle Beach somewhat sober… Why, hello, Charleston! We explore your treasures TONIGHT!