Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry Christmas AND Happy Holidays!

This will probably be my last post before the end of the year since there is absolutely nothing going on right now, and I have much more important things to do than try to think of something interesting to write- like waiting for the dang snow to melt so I can get back to the Sweeeeeeeeet skatepark they just built in downtown KC. So, in the meantime, all of you who are able to recieve Kansas City radio, please tune in on Christmas Eve to KCUR 89.3FM at 2pm. Yesterday, we went down to our beloved local NPR affiliate and pre-recorded an hour of Christmas goodness AND an interview for our pal, Robert Moore's show, Sonic Spectrum. Our special guests included our good friend Gary Miller (aka Bubba) AND Darth Vader, so it is NOT TO BE MISSED. If you are out of the KC radio area, KCUR 89.3FM can be heard online by pasting the following into your browser:

If you are not able to listen on Christmas Eve, no problem, because Robert's show is now archived. Just go to the following:

I'm not sure how long it will take for the show to be archived, but I'd imagine that you might get to hear it before your fruitcake hardens up. Oh wait, fruitcake by definition has already hardened hasn't it? Well, you get the idea...
Best wishes from our Wilder families to yours...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Last month of the year...

I'm sitting in the back of the brown clown rolling through the birthplace of water skiing, Lake City, Minnesota. But there aren't too many people out on the vastly wide Mississippi River right now, however, since it's frozen solid and topped with about 6" of snow. We are out on our final tour of the year, a quicky 4-day run taking us from Minneapolis, MN to Columbia, MO with stops in LaCrosse, WI and Iowa City, IA. We've put almost 50,000 miles on the clown since we purchased it in April. Our little conversion van/4x6 trailer combination has served us well, and it feels good to finish out our first year as full time musicians with one more road trip.

What a year! As I think back on 2005, it's hard to believe all the places we've been and all the people we've met. It all started in January with the recording of our new album, "Throw Down", down in Louisiana with Dirk Powell. That trip was followed by a very long tour taking us from Arizona, up the California coast into the northwest, and finally up to Vancouver for our first visit to Canada. As you might remember, we lost The Chief early on in that tour, and our finances have been compromised ever since. But we persevered, and with the purchase of the brown clown, we were able to continue on in April, making our first visits to the southeast United States on a tour that would ultimately prove to have fortuitous later returns due to a stellar inaugural appearance at MerleFest in North Carolina.

Then it was back out west for another first, The Telluride Bluegrass, followed by a return to Montana and Wyoming. The summer closed with a hot and sticky tour starting in New York, continuing on up the eastern seaboard to Maine, and then halfway back across the country and then all the way north, to the upper peninsula of Michigan. Before the leaves even began to turn, we found ourselves back in Michigan for our second appearance at The Wheatland Music Festival, followed by our beloved Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS, then Silver Dollar City in Branson, and finally, IBMA in Nashville. One more plane ride in November, and we were then able to cross Florida, too, off our list of "firsts". It all seems like a blur, but by the time we finish up this current tour, we will have played concerts, clubs and festivals in over 30 states as well as one Canadian province- all in 2005!

Despite all the miles, we are all holding up well. Nate and Melissa had their beautiful baby girl, Gretel, in October, and they are now easing into the routines of parenthood. We've ordered protective flight cases for our instruments to prepare for next year's travel demands, and although we will probably not record another album until late next year, everyone is writing new tunes like crazy. I think we are all looking forward to sitting down together to work on the new material after the holidays. We are also looking forward to visiting some new places in 2006, most notably, our first tour of Alaska in June, and a trip to Ireland in late August. So, as I always say, stayed tuned. There will be lots more stories from the road. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

80 is enough already!

Hey folks,
I know I am overdue for an update but I got sidelined with jury duty and have spent the rest of this weekend trying to digest all that Thanksgiving goodness. Rest assured, we are all well and taking care of our homes, families and delayed obligations. Kim and I were blessed last week with a nice visit from Mel, Nate and Gretel. She is growing quickly and looks sort of like Winston Churchill in her carseat. She's only a month old and already she is developing her own personality. Her parents are very, very proud. So I promise I will try to get some sort of update together for you this week but in the meantime, here's a new post so you don't have to scroll down so far to read other bloggers comments. take care.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Insert new heading here

Real creative header, I know...

Several things to tell y'all today.

Nate was real glad to get home after IBMA to spend more time with GG and Melissa... he really missed both his girls while we were gone and was such a proud papa, showing everyone pictures and beaming a lot.

IBMA, by the way, was a great success. We worked our butts off, playing late night showcases almost every night, and then there was Fan Fest. A great many of those people had not ever heard of us until that show. They were probably wondering, who are these Wilders and why are they playing right before Rhonda Vincent? Hopefully we gave them the answers in that set. We did great.

It was almost strange playing at 1 pm after all those late night showtimes, though, and let me tell you that we sure do prefer a sound system rather than yelling and overplaying in a hotel room suite! Those can be real fun and we do know how to project, but it takes a toll. I lost my voice by the end of the week (had just enough left to sing at Fan Fest), but it was probably from talking more than singing. You know, I tend to do a lot of the talking, whenever I get a chance, and I'm not just talking about on stage!

There were a lot of folks to talk to -- always the business contacts at IBMA, and other musicians, etc. etc. I think we have secured ourselves a good place in that organization. In fact, I truly believe we wouldn't be where we are without IBMA. That's where we met Mary, our agent extraordinaire, and that's where festival promoters from Telluride/Rockygrass, Grey Fox, Wintergrass, and more, first saw us play (in those hotel rooms, past years). Many of those promoters still came to see us play showcases, and that's a great feeling to know that they want to keep up with us. We also had some time spent with the man who is going to get our new CD out to radio stations everywhere... our first publicist, Al Moss. He's a fantastic fellow, been in the biz for a long time, lives in Nashville now, and is probably even as I write this telling yet another biz person about us. He's a real go-getter -- we met him at Merlefest, and boy are we lucky.

It was great to see our Larryfest friends again, and we did get a chance to play their showcase room too. And, they have sound. (Thanks Howie!) Boy, is that a great thing. We look forward to seeing y'all in December!

A personal highlight for me took place on Friday night. I was having a high-energy big time party jam in a hotel room with some old time musician friends, and was taken aside by a mutual musician friend who whispered in my ear, "we're going to be playing in the room across the hall with Hazel Dickens. And you need to come." O-Kay! I played a couple more tunes with my friends, and excused myself, trying to be cool about it since it was brought to me in secret. I went over there and met Ms. Dickens (if you don't know who she is, let me just say -- THE singer's singer; songwriter; pioneering bluegrass lady; folk music superstar -- AND, she plays electric bass!), and played there for about an hour. It was a small jam and of highest quality and I was lucky to sit next to Ms. Dickens to hear her most powerful voice so close up. Wow. As I readied myself to leave (this was the night before our 1 pm Fan Fest play, and it was going on 3 am by now), Hazel leaned in to me and said, "you really perked this jam up. We were kinda heading down, and you came in, and just perked things up." Wow.

The next night I was at a party and in walks Hazel... when she saw me, she said, "there's My Fiddler!" Wow!! I gave her a copy of Throw Down and I sure hope she likes it and we cross paths again. She's just a regular gal, but I've never seen a singer give themselves to a song more fully than she does. Again, wow.

OK... is that a nice nugget for y'all?

Here's the other thing to let you know about. It's called MySpace and it appears to be the thing that everyone is doing. I found out about it during IBMA when some friends of mine in a new band (The Sidewinders -- old time goodness, y'all, including David Bass, the fiddler from Freight Hoppers) gave me a card with their myspace url on it. Well, it looks like every band we know and so many more we don't are on this thing. So, this weekend I started setting up a page, and it's amazing how fast people are finding us! You can join for free, and it's another place where I can add more Wilders content, cheaper and quicker than on our main site.

our myspace place

You can get lost on this thing, there are so many people out there. But it's already turned me on to a couple new bands. Just thought y'all would want to know about this, being that y'all are the best fans we got!

That brings us back around to this moment and I've got to get ready to do laundry so I have clean things to wear in Florida this weekend. That should be pretty cool, our first Florida fest! So, until I get the bug to do another wordy scatterbrained post... take care all.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Baby Gawron born healthy and happy!

Just got a call from Nate. Melissa gave birth at 12:05pm today to a healthy baby girl. Both mother and baby are fine and resting. Here's the basic stats:
weight 7lbs 8 1/2oz
length 19 1/4"


Friday, October 07, 2005

Throw Down!

Since we've all but finished our extensive travel for the year, I thought I would try to illuminate everybody on the eccentricities of our new cd, "Throw Down". As many of you know, the recording was done down in Beaux Bridge, LA back in January of this year with our new pal Dirk Powell. Dirk's studio, The Cypress House, is an old 3 room Louisiana house that has been converted into a nice digital recording facility. Dirk presided over the recordings from a smallish isolated control room that looks into a rustic, homey feeling medium-size room with exposed timbers and plenty of atmosphere. For almost all the tracks, we played all together in the main room choosing to overdub only a few backing vocals and solos whenever it seemed to make the most sense. Dirk has a nice collection of studio mics, and he spent several hours on the first day swapping mics, adjusting angles and positions, and listening while we warmed up and tried to get over our nervousness. His easy-going, friendly approach to recording made us feel welcome and soon after he got the sound he was looking for, we were up and rolling. When the first day was finished, we had about 8 tunes in the can and headed back to the RV park to get a good night's sleep before heading back the next day around noon. After two days, we had most of the album finished with two more days still set aside for overdubs, and preliminary mixing. In a way, it was the easiest recording we have ever done. Now that I listen to the finished product, I realize that Dirk really captured us at our best. We were excited but also terrified by trying to record our own original tunes. Thanks to Dirk, those tunes, I believe, are the best on the album. Here's some thoughts on the tracks and some back story on where they came from and how they were recorded:

Track 1- Hawk's Got a Chicken and Flew into the Woods
Betse brought this old ozark finger burner to the band sometime in the last two years and we played it live many times before coming down to Dirk's. So we were already pretty comfortable with the arrangement. Oftentimes, Betse has to try to hold us back from rushing the tempo on fiddle tunes, especially when they are really fun to play. On this track, however, it's Betse who charges ahead and honestly, we were barely able to keep up. It came out as frenetic as it felt while we were recording it, and I think it' serves as a great example of our "crazy side"

Track 2- Honky Tonk Habit
Bless Nate Gawron's heart, the boy has got a real feel for writing honky tonk tunes and this is one of his best. I remember when we were rehearsing for the recordings after the holidays, Nate had a very specific way he wanted this tune to be sung. However, Ike's voice is not at all like Nate's, and since Ike was the one who had to sing it, Nate had to let go a little bit and allow him to sing it in his own way. Ike calls this process "putting it through the Wilders machine". The tune percolates along and features a fantastic and wild solo by Betse. It's the first original tune on the album and sounds like it could have been written by some old obscure honky tonker from the 50's.

Track 3- It'll Never be Thru with Us (Until it's Thru with You)
This one is Ike's and it's been around forever. Back in the early days of the Wilders, Ike and I did a short stint doing brother duets and this tune dates back to that time. I've always loved it and when we started talking about doing originals, it was the first one of his that I thought of. The arrangement defiantly smacks of bluegrass and has the one-tow punch of a speedy tempo and impossibly high lonesome backing vocals courtesy of my silly falsetto. We encouraged (threatened) Nate to take a quick bass solo in the middle section and it just turned out great.

Track 4- Won't You Sometimes Think of Me
How do you collaborate with the greatest honky tonk singer of all time- especially when he's been dead for 40 years? Well, if you are Ike Sheldon, you listen to Hank Williams demos and find a truly great, but unfinished song fragment and then use your imagination. This tune is just heart breaking in Hank's plaintive verses, and with the addition of Ike's chorus, it sounds, well, perfectly finished. Betse got the idea to add a harmony fiddle part over her solo which makes my guts ache every time I hear it.

Track 5- Squirrel Hunters
Betse got this tune from the wonderful fiddling of John Hartford. It's actually the first tune we recorded during the sessions and I remember playing it for about an hour while Dirk got the fiddle mic situated just right. Since we were so warmed up, the tune has a cool nonchalant bounce. Everybody but Betse was floored when we listened to the playbacks. She hadn't even considered that it would be included on the album, and to this day, I'm not sure that she understands why we like it so much. When it came down to the final choices for the album, she was still holding out. We are a very democratic band, and the honest truth is that she got outvoted. Thank goodness for democracy!

Track 6- Belshazzar
We've been playing this old Johnny Cash gospel tune since the earliest days of the band. We actually recorded it for our first cd, "Cornbread, Molasses and Sassafrass Tea", but since that one has been out of print for years AND since Nate wasn't even in the band at that time, we decided to give it another go. Nate brings a honky tonk beat to it and we generally juked it up like crazy. Ike always says that preachers don't tell old testament stories like this because it might scare you out of church. Disembodied hands writing on the wall in blood. Yikes.

Track 7-Jenny on the Railroad
Betse got this one from an old 78 recording by Carter Brothers and Son and it just smokes. We recorded it late on the second day and I think Dirk was getting itchy from sitting in the control room for two days. We were warming up on it and all the sudden Dirk appeared in the doorway with his fiddle. We all looked at each other thinking, "is he really? no he wouldn't, yes he would!" Betse ran through it a couple of times so Dirk could get the fingering, and then he ran back into the control room and started it rolling. We recorded it twice and this was the second take. It has a crazy, almost out of control feel punctuated by Ike's yipping and yelling. Wow, Dirk played on one of our tracks. Cool, really cool.

Track 8- Together Apart
I wrote this tune about 4 years ago with the intention that our old pals, Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys, would snatch it up and run with it. That never happened and it sat in the cellar until we started talking about recording originals. I dusted it off and taught it to Ike and he messed around with it for about a week before bringing it back to us in it's current form. The subject matter is pretty depressing but I intended it as a love song. I think anyone who has had a long term relationship can relate to the feeling of this song on some level. I'm pretty proud of the way it turned out.

Track 9- The Blues Come Around
Another Hank Williams tune that we'd been doing live for about a year before the recording. This one almost met with the chopping block during the mixing phase. There was something about it, however, that represented an aspect of the band like no other song we recorded. I used an experimental tuning on the dobro which gives the tune it's 50's honky tonk voicing. I also especially like the fact that the whole band chimes in on choruses.

Track 10- Goat Creek
Betse loves goats- little goats especially, but she'll take whatever goats you've got. We were playing at the Minnesota state fair when Betse showed this to me for the first time. It was obviously a kick-in-the-butt kind of a fiddle tune. I'm not sure when she wrote it, but it sounded completely finished the first time I ever heard it. She taught it to me first, and then we rehearsed it with the band a few weeks later. It was an obvious choice for the recording along with two other Betse originals. During the mixing, it emerged as the one of the best fiddle tunes we recorded, and fit very neatly into the tracking order. Just to let you know, Betse has written several more original fiddle tunes that are just as great (if not better) than this one. You will have many more to look forward to on future recordings.

Track 11- Drivin' Nails in My Coffin
This is another honky tonker that we've been covering for awhile. Ike originally came up with the idea to break it into pieces- a slow waltz on the verses and frantic 4/4 on the verses. It's humorous. It's dumb. It's us.

Track 12- When I Get to Heaven
I'm not sure when Ike wrote this one, but he's been doing it live very occasionally at gospel shows in the last year. He recorded it on the third day after most of the other tracks were finished. We had discussed the possibility of trying a solo and it seemed like the right time/ mood to let him give it a go. Everybody just went outside and let him have at it. Dirk turned the lights down low and Ike reached down deep in his gut to pull this one off. For my money, it's the most honest tune on the record.

Track 13- When the Levee's Gone
I wrote a whole tune around these lyrics many years ago in response to the last Missouri River flood. People were pitching in with the sandbags trying to save downtown Parkville, Missouri and I just let my imagination run. When we started talking about originals, I dug into an old folder and rediscovered the lyrics. I couldn't, for the life of me, remember the tune that went with it so I just handed them over to Ike and said, "if you can come up with a tune, here's some words". The next week at practice, he showed up early and played me what he had written for it. I was floored. He took a bluesy dirge about drowning and made it happy. The recording went very easily on this one and I believe it is one of Dirk's favorites. Now, as the city of New Orleans is still being pumped out, the song has taken on a ominous tone for me. We stopped performing it live during the hurricane's aftermath. It was just way too creepy.

Track 14- January Waltz
Oftentimes, we will finish an old timey dance performance with a waltz and it seemed fitting to end the album with this wonderful Betse original. She penned this one several years ago and we actually tried to record it for the "Spring a Leak" album. But that version wasn't up to snuff, and I'm glad for it because we got another chance to get it right for this recording. For me, January waltz brings images to my mind of gray, snow filled skies. It's a lovely tune and lovingly played by all. Incidentally, Dirk's masterful use of digital editing saved this one from the chopping block. You see, my mandolin went horribly out of tune toward the end of the tune. Click click, chop chop and it's saved. And you'd never know it except I just told you.

So that's my take on the takes. If you have a copy, listen to it again and let me know your thoughts. If you haven't got a copy, you can buy it on our website ( Let's face it, you need the music and we need the money. It's a win win.

all the best.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Snake in the Grass

I was getting ready to leave Winfield on Monday. I'd stayed over Sunday night but wasn't up for campground shenanigans due to already losing enough sleep (and my voice) over the weekend. So I splurged on a motel room in town, slept decently, and the next morning headed in to tear my tent and its belongings down.

I had come in to the festival at night, the Wednesday before, when it was already looking really full. My festival family welcomed me in, helped me to set up, and made me feel right at home in this little neck of the woods that was to be home for the next several days. (y'all are the best -- thanks so much -- I miss y'all already)

I came back to the now almost empty camp grounds. My tent was the lone survivor of the neighborhood. Fighting the strong Kansas winds, I emptied my tent of its contents, turned my tent over to dump out dirt clods and grass, laid out my tarp and staked it so it could dry, and began to pile all my stuff around my car.

My car is small (compact) and packing it requires careful consideration. It's not one I can pack by just throwing stuff in any old way. So I couldn't really start packing it until everything was in its respective bag, box, or rolled up or whatever. It took a good hour of work to get to this point.

I had put things near their packing location. For example, my tent, camp chairs, tables, and cooler were near the back of my car. My suitcase, hanging bag of clothes, violin case, and some other odds and ends were near the passenger door. I had opened both doors of the car, having gotten to the point where I was ready to start the big pile-in. My violin case was on the ground right beside the passenger seat area. My hanging bag was draped over the open passenger door. A couple other odds and ends sat nearby. I was about ten feet from this side of my car, and the wind was blowing, so things were flapping around a bit.

But none of them were moving through the grass.
Like the five foot long blacksnake.
Going about 10 mph.
Sliding right past me.
Heading straight for my car.
Slithering over the odds.
And the ends.
Working its way up my violin case.
Its head now above the case.
Peering inside my car.
(This takes about three seconds)

I'm crying out, "no, no, no".
I'm running toward the car.
I'm praying the snake will be scared.
I'm waving my arms toward it.
It slides off the case.
Goes under the car.
(The other door is open too...)

I shove my case out of the way...
Throw my hanging clothes off the door...
Slam the passenger door...
Run around my car...
Slam the driver's door...
Stand there shaking...
What if it's in the car...
What if it's in the car...
Where did it go...
Is it in the car?
Oh, sh**.
Where is it.

I emptied out what was already in my car. Poked something under the seats. No sign. I moved my car a few feet. No snake. Nothing to do but pack up. After I'd driven an hour or so, it occurred to me that the snake could have crawled up into the engine where it was nice and warm. So I stopped and lifted the hood, peered around. Nothing.

Nothing to do but hope that old snake stayed in Winfield.

But I haven't been out to my car since I got home.

What if it's sunning itself in the windshield?


Certainly not.

I hope...

Monday, September 12, 2005

Home Safe

Howdy folks,
We all made it safely home from the eastern tour. Sorry I didn't write more of the day-to-day drudgery for you, but it was a pretty intense trip, and we had precious little time for relaxation. The gas prices ($3.69 per gallon in Maine!!!) and Labor Day motel price gouging ($120.00 a night for absolute flea bag crap!!!) basically smacked us down for the entire trip, but we made some new fans and friends and were fairly well recieved by the masses. We are still sweating out our new CD deadline of Wednesday with no news thus far. After spending so much dough on the eastern tour, we desperately need to have it for Winfield or we will miss out on huge potential sales. Everybody please send a prayer to the CD manufacturer, AND the truck driver who will deliver it into our hands. If all goes well, the new CD, entitled "Throw Down", will be available by this weekend to all of those who go to Winfield. I have also made arrangements for the CD to be available for purchase on our website by this weekend as well. Everything came together marvelously, the artwork that Betse and I did is pretty danged neat and Ike and Dirk worked very hard to make it sound awesome. Pick it up and Throw Down! I will be shipping web orders all next week.
drive safely to Winfield!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Spin One For The Zipper

August 25th: Trumansburg, New York

Here's a personal detail; I absolutely love fairs. I fondly remember my pop taking me to Sedalia almost every year to spend a day at the Missouri State fair. We'd browse the exhibits, check out the 4H contest winners and then, inevitably, I'd drag him to the midway to get on some sketchy rides and try (unsuccessfully) to win a dumb stuffed animal or a switchblade comb by tossing rings over coke bottles, or shooting moving targets with a poorly sighted BB gun. He'd top off the day by letting me eat some god-awful batter-dipped meat byproducts before yanking me out of there kicking and screaming for more. Maybe it's the corn-dogs, or the rides, or just the complete spectacle of it, but I'm a fair junky for life. So, you can imagine how happy I was when we arrived in the quaint downtown of Trumansburg, New York, and I looked out the window of the van and saw a ferris wheel. This nifty little town fair looked to be a microcosm of all my favorite fair memories- impossibly dangerous-looking rides, batter-dipped foods of all nationalities and, of course, crazy-looking carneys barking at the pretty girls and generally creeping everybody out.

We arrived in the late afternoon a little wobbly from two+ days of solid driving from KC. Since the stage hands were still setting up for the concert, there wasn't much happening yet, so we all scattered and took in the sights in our own way. We were here in Trumansburg as as a supporting act for Buffalo Zydeco, a group made up mostly from the members of New York state jamgrass heroes, Donna the Buffalo. Also on the bill, was a Louisiana band that we had heard loads about, The Red Stick Ramblers. We parked the van in the shade and, out of sheer boredom, actually practiced some new songs before we had to get dressed for the show. We were the first band up and, after being introduced, we got down to the business of playing our stuff for this crowd of local Trumansburgers- none of whom had absolutely any idea of who we were. We got a warm response, but I could tell that the crowd was saving themselves for the main act. This mattered little to me, however, because I was now off work, and ready to get my fair on.

We changed out of our soaking show clothes and lingered in the backstage area to marvel at the Red Stick Ramblers who had stormed the stage in our absence. These guys were pouring it on thick and the crowd danced and sweated and screamed for more. The Ramblers mix western swing and cajun fiddle tunes with the same effortless indifference that our band mixes old-time fiddle tunes with honky tonk. After standing, gape-mouthed and humbled for most of their set, my stomach took control of my brain and demanded something deep-fried immediately. I found Nate and Ike, and quickly deputized them as my fair posse, then we headed out for the midway. Common sense dictates that rides must always precede food, so we purchased tickets and Ike dragged us over to the bumper cars. Now don't get me wrong, I love to smash into other cars. But when you learn to drive in Kansas City, it's a lot of work just avoiding the cars that are trying to smash into you, so neither Nate or I were much interested in Ike's first choice. We made another loop, spent some money on a slice of pizza to tide us over, and then, turning another corner, Nate suddenly said, "Let's ride THAT." Ike and I looked up and stared into the face of THE ZIPPER. It's impossible to describe, but I'll try. The Zipper is an oblong tank-track-shaped structure which has two-seat cars mounted and hanging about every 5 feet. The whole track rotates around a center point tower about 20 feet off the ground. As the oversized chain drive pulls the tank track in circles, the individual human torture cages are free to flip forward, backward and upside down, with each centrifugal spin. Ike watched The Zipper for a moment and then quickly said, "sorry dude, no WAY am I getting on that."

Nate looked at me and flashed me his saddest puppy dog eyes, and I was transported back in time. I now understood what mechanism was in place back at the old MO State fair-why my dad always allowed me to drag him into this kind of crap even though it was probably the last thing he wanted-why I ALWAYS got my way, at least for awhile. I looked at Nate and said, "alright, what the hell." We walked back to the ticket booth and acquired the sufficient admission fee. As a precautionary measure, Nate ran with Ike to the bathroom, and as I walked back to get in line, I noticed the two carneys who, in moments, were going to hold our lives in their hands. The Zipper operator, who shall from this point forth be referred to as "Brutus Maximus", was a solid pro-wrestler type of a guy weighing in at a solid 250lbs+. He had a shaved head and an evil smirk and I could see him eyeing me as I stood at the gate. His assistant, who shall from this point forth be referred as "Renfield", was a wiry guy, barely 5 feet tall, with a handlebar mustache and huge thick oval coke bottle glasses. Brutus had stopped The Zipper momentarily so that Renfield could hose out one of the cars. It seemed a strange time to do routine maintenance on the ride, and then it dawned on me what he must be hosing. Nate and Ike returned from the bathroom and I called out to them, "Dude, check it out, they are HOSING OUT one of the cars. You know what THAT means." Brutus Maximus overheard me and smirked again, clearly enjoying his profession. Renfield finished up with his hose and slammed the door shut as Brutus Maximus cranked her into gear again. As is the case with its benign cousin, The Ferris Wheel, The Zipper can only unload one car at a time. So it took several minutes for Brutus and Renfield to get the few folks standing in line in front of us on board. We stood and watched the superstructure rotate, each car blurring with speed and spin, backwards, forwards, and upside down, before Brutus slammed on the brakes and Renfield opened the cage to release it's woozy occupants. It made me dizzy just to watch, and I briefly considered forgetting the whole thing, but somehow it gave me pleasure to be willing to do something, for once, that was "too crazy" for Ike.

Before I could chicken out, the Zipper stopped rotating again and Renfield swung open the door to an empty cage. Brutus smirked at us again as he took our tickets and Nate and I crawled into our seats. They were wet. Before I could even speak, Renfield slammed the door like an insane jailer and I looked at Nate and said, "Dude, this is the car he was HOSING OUT." The last thing I saw as I looked out of our cage was Renfield and Brutus Maximus laughing. Then all hell broke loose. We were up moving on the outside of the track and then we were inside, then upside down, then outside again. Nate and I held on to the bars of our cage for dear life and screamed our heads off as we flipped upside down and right-side up, again, and again and again. Then Brutus Maximus reversed the gears. Now we were on the inside track, flipping upside down the other direction, now outside, then inside again and another flip, and another. Every once and awhile our cage would be on the end of the track flipping at exactly the same time that the whole track reached the outside point of maximum centrifugal spin. It was at those points that I thought our car was going to fly off the track, landing us somewhere in New Jersey. The terror continued for, what seemed like a half hour, and then suddenly Brutus Maximus slammed the whole track to a stop. He was letting some other lucky jerks off at the bottom while Nate and I hung upside down like bats on a cave ceiling, hose water still dripping around us. Seconds later we were off again, flipping, whipping and spinning around while the blood drained from my forearms. Another brief stop and then we were headed back to the bottom. Suddenly the direction reversed and we flipped about 8 consecutive spins, then the car rocked back the other way and we flipped another 8 spins the other direction, then back again for another 8. We were near the bottom of the track and very close to the end of the ride yet we were now spinning more than ever. I looked out of the cage past my white knuckles and glimpsed Brutus Maximus laughing his head off. I realized that he was deliberately spinning us trying to make us sick. I screamed at Nate, "Dude, he's screwing with us." I don't remember now what Nate said in response because we were again spinning over, and over, and over again. Just when I could almost feel that piece of pizza climbing back up my esophagus, suddenly everything slammed to a stop. Renfield's handlebar mustache and glasses appeared at the door to our cage and the rest of the fair appeared in my shaken vision. We were free. Nate and I spilled out of our cage like soggy sardines and wobbled toward the exit gate. My brain was still spinning but as I passed Brutus Maximus, I smiled and said, "good JOB dude." He smirked back at me and then refocused on his evil lever, throwing it into gear to torture his next unsuspecting prisoners.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Jetsetting and last minute album scrambling

I'm sitting here quietly looking out the window thousands of miles above the eastern Utah desert. We are on our flight home from the Grand Targhee Bluegrass Festival in Alta, Wyoming and frankly, I'm pooped. But what a great time. This cool festival, situated just below the western face of the Teton range, attracts a nice mix of local mountain dwellers, avid mountain bikers and colorful mountain hippies. It was a nice sized festival with excellent sound and an imposing lineup of bluegrass/newgrass powerpickers. Rather than writing a novel here, I'll just give y'all the highlights. We played our first set on Saturday afternoon following Darol Anger and Mike Marshall. I don't think the crowd had any idea of what they were in for because once Betse broke into the first fiddle tune, they went absolutely nuts. For the rest of the set, the crowd throbbed around the stage dancing up a cloud of dust like Pig Pen in a Peanuts Christmas Special. After the show, we got to meet many nice folks who came to the CD table to buy our stuff and tell us how much they enjoyed it. Later that evening, our brave and beloved Betse raised some serious hell during the all-star, all-male, super pickers finale led by Sam Bush- but that's her story to tell.

We were the first band up on Sunday, and I was thinking that everyone had decided to sleep in due to the lack of an audience about 11:55am. But people started trickling in as we tuned up and when Betse hit the first fiddle tune, the area in front of the stage was suddenly filled. We played a secular set but threw in a fair number of gospel tunes and the crowd really ate it up. Overall I'd say that we made quite an impression. There's lots more to tell, but Betse will tell it better than me since she actually participated and witnessed the story rather than hearing about it second hand.

On the home front, we are working diligently to complete our new album in time for Winfield. Everyone please cross your fingers and toes that we can get it done in 4 weeks...Betse and I are handling the artwork, while Ike works long distance with Dirk Powell and the mastering guys in Nashville to insure that it will sound its best. For those of you that need a Wilders fix, we have two new live shows available for download on our website. Go to the "listen" link and you can click and download to your heart's content. Warning! If you have a dial-up connection, you are going to wait forever because I decide to encode these shows at a higher audio quality. Do yourselves a favor and get a broadband connection if you can. You won't regret it. This will especially help you if you also want to download the new video links that are on the same page. More good news is forthcoming.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Power of Water

(added this pic in response to recent question)
This, folks, is an erhu:

Here's something that has been resonating with me lately. And it has nothing and everything to do with music.

First, does anyone recall me giving props to water at a show any time in the last year or so? Well, I have. Pretty frequently. It probably started from needing to say something on the mic while others were tuning or whatever, but also needing a drink of water. As y'all know, I lose a lot of water in the form of sweat during a show, so I need to replenish. Ever since the first time, I find myself talking about water almost every show. (I said something Friday night, even.) Anyway, I recognize its importance even if I still probably need to drink more every day.

Last fall, Phil took all us Wilders to see this film/documentary called "What the Bleep Do We Know?" -- it's mostly about quantum physics, but also mostly about who we all are and why we are and how we can be... there was a little segment in there that showed photomicrographs of water crystals. The researcher, Masaru Emoto, had pictures of water that had been shown information. Like, "Love". Water responds to ~hado~, or vibrations. It can come in the form of the written word, or spoken, and also through music or images.

Many of the interviewees in the film have written books and I always meant to check some out. But honestly, as life keeps on going, it's easy to pass by and not follow through. You know how it is.

So, when we were in Middlebury, Vermont last month, we had a couple of hours to kill before the show. Everybody went their own way... we were staying in a beautiful inn, right downtown, and I took a walk down the street to window shop. I went into a bookstore and glanced at new releases. There was a book from Emoto, "The True Power of Water". I picked it up and started reading it that night.

Finding this book is a turning point for me. I won't try to summarize it for you. But you can check out the link (in the title) for yourself. I believe in the power of water. I'm going to read Emoto's other books now, and every morning I thank my water before and after I drink it.

You should try it, too.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Are there any questions?

Would it surprise many of you to learn that I've grown very bored writing and posting our road stories? I'll bet not, considering that my last post was an exhaustive essay on modern outhouses. In fact, I was just discussing this blog last weekend with one of my great old friends, Bill Rexroad, at the Santa Rosa Tick Festival. I told him that, anymore, the story is pretty much always the same: We check out of our motel in the morning, we drive all day, we arrive at the gig on time (usually), we wait around, we play a great show (usually), the audience likes it a lot (usually), and then we go check into a motel, rinse and repeat. The exciting days of trying to resuscitate The Chief each day are over and I just don't think I have much to write about that would be of interest to anyone anymore.

I was a little surprised when Mr. Rexroad admonished me for my poor attitude toward the blog. He said that people really enjoy reading about what we do, where we are etc. So, out of my sincere respect for Bill AND since I'm home for a few weeks, I'd like to ask you folks who are reading this, what do you want to know? What can I tell you that you don't already know? Is there a story, particularly, that you want to read? Is there anything that I've written about that you'd like more information on?

I'll pay attention to your posts and try to respond accordingly. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005


This year marks about a dozen years that I've been attending bluegrass festivals. At the beginning, I was a talentless, but enthusiastic fan who avidly lived and breathed the music-forgoing showers, comfort and shelter, day and night, to immerse myself in the rural musical culture. Now, as a full-time working musician, I'm living on the other end of the spectrum- rarely sleeping in the same place more than two nights in a row, living a nomadic existence from one Motel X to the next, expecting (and receiving) golf cart rides to get my instruments through the thickened crowd into the backstage area, and, of course, hobnobbing with the bluegrass royalty etc.. But throughout my varied festival experiences, one thing has remained consistent from day one: the humble Portajohn. From the Adirondacks to the Rockies, from the northern plains to the swampy bottomland of the southern delta, no matter where a bluegrass festival happens to be, the Portajohn is there.

For those who've never had the pleasure of the experience, I'll report that there is an amazing consistency in Portajohn design. Here's the basics: There's a door (with a working lock- hopefully). There is a plastic seat (ideally in the "up" position). There is a roll of toilet paper mounted to the wall. There are air vents sliced throughout the ceiling for much-needed ventilation. And finally, there is the hole- the bottom of which is filled with a strange and nebulous blue liquid. This liquid is provided, mercifully, in an attempt to mask the odor of its soupy contents. It's a no-frills place to be, for sure. If it's hot outside, it's 20 degrees hotter inside the John (which gives a new meaning to "sweating out the poisons"). True, it's not particularly pleasant, but if you've got to go (and you have no other choice), it works. The only discernible difference between one Portajohn and the next, in my opinion, is in the thoughtful extras that some of the nicer models offer its bluegrass citizens. For instance, it's becoming standard to have a hand-sanitizing dispenser mounted to the wall by the door. This allows you to feel a little better if your mom taught you to always wash your hands after using the bathroom. On rare occasions, I've even experienced the "executive washroom unit", which has actual soap, water AND paper towels. Also, many of the newer models now have a built in urinal on the wall. This feature saves a lot of disgusting wiping up if the seat is found in the "down" position. But innovation can sometimes result in confusion. A few years ago, for example, this simple, but effectively designed, elongated half-funnel shaped revolutionary feature was mistaken by a female festival patron who believed it to have a completely different function. The poor, misinformed woman lodged a complaint with the festival management on her way home-reporting that, "SOME rude person has been PEEING in the PURSE HOLDERS!" We about fell off of our plastic seats when we heard that one.

Yes, the lowly Portajohn is the industry standard of the bluegrass cosmos. It's most festival organizer's top pick when facilitating the personal elimination of their ticket-holders. Smaller festivals, like the type we cut our teeth on in Iowa so many years ago, might choose to just scatter a half dozen of these injection molded beauties throughout the camping area. In contrast, the larger festivals we find ourselves playing more recently, tend to herd their Portajohns into a sort of militaristic rectangular latrine common-area where festival attendees can gather, talk, poop and pee with abandon. Clearly, cleaning and service is an important component to consider here. If the festival provides too few cleanings over a busy weekend, you might think twice before prolonging your visit. In my checkered bluegrass festival memory, I know that on many a Sunday afternoon, I chose to save it for home when I opened up a particularly foul smelling door. For my money, the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield Kansas, has the best Portajohn service on the bluegrass planet. These folks have human waste disposal down to a science. The Winfield festival regularly draws somewhere around 18,000 people (give or take 5,000) over 4 days, with many attendees camping for a week before AND AFTER the actual festival. Give a chimpanzee a pencil, and he'd quickly figure out the math of that many people, over that many days, with only so many plastic boxes to do their business in. The monkey's sum is this: a lot of banana peels, a LOT. But in my over 10 years of Winfield festivals, I've rarely walked into a Portajohn that didn't inspire me to hang out for awhile, because it just smelled so fresh and delightful. Here's why: there is an army patrol of suck-trucks combing the campgrounds during the daylight hours, cleaning every dang Portajohn in the place like ants on an abandoned picnic spread. These guys, wearing biceps-high rubber gloves, do some seriously unpleasant work so that you, the festival patron (no doubt filled to the brim with ears of roasted corn and onion burgers), can relax and unwind in minty-cool mountain freshness. It is because of this, that each year at Winfield, I always go out of my way to say thanks to these forgotten heroes of the festival when I spot them working the row of Portajohns closest to my tent.

And, I've got to say it, I love how the Portajohn experience is so democratic. Because regardless of what you might think folks, when your favorite bluegrass star hears the call of the number one or two, nine times out of ten, they will take care of nature at the festival the same way you do- in a hot and smelly plastic box, the only difference being that it's located behind the stage with a sign on the door that says, "for artists only".

This fact came home to me last September at Winfield. We were tuning up just minutes before our evening performance on the main stage, and I thought it prudent to empty my bladder before we went on. I walked over to the backstage Portajohn and, in the low light, did not see that it was occupied. I yanked on the door, found it locked, and stepped off a few paces to wait my turn. After a few minutes, the door swung open and out walked the female lead singer of a pretty danged famous band who had played onstage earlier. Professional courtesy prevents me from revealing her identity but she was clearly embarrassed when she saw me standing there, and we exchanged insincere pleasantries as she quickly moved past. I opened the door and was horrified by the stench that lay in wait for me. I thought to myself, "have they not cleaned this thing all weekend?" As I pointed out earlier, when deep-fried festival food is consumed, processed and eliminated over several days, the receiving Portajohn can really take on a life of it's own. But still, this seemed to be more of a localized and specific odor. In fact, I had used the same John earlier that day, and it had been as clean and fresh as an alpine meadow. This particular putridness undoubtedly belonged to my famous, and thus justifiably mortified predecessor. Holding my breath for a few minutes, I did my business as quickly as possible and then got the heck out of there. As I grabbed up my instruments and headed up on to the stage, I couldn't stop laughing.

The next time I encounter this "secret stinker" at a festival, I'll undoubtedly smile, exchange the usual pleasantries and be courteous. But deep in my brain's nasal memory tissues, I'll recall, with uncomfortable accuracy, the awful stench of that night, connect it once again with her face, and undoubtedly burst into laughter.

We shared something that night, just the two of us- something indescribable. And the humble Portajohn was there to frame the event in my molded plastic memory for all time.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Here we go again

In an effort to keep the numbers of comments per blog under 60, I herby submit a new place for y'all to post on.

I've not really been keeping up very well, have I? At least brotherphil is making good in his efforts to keep the updates coming. Let me see if I can provide a few updates, some of which are asked for in the last blog...

July 3 was indeed rained out. I was heading down there with some friends about 7:30 and saw they were directing traffic out of the park, none in. We got up to the rain-slickered police officer -- I rolled down my window, informed him I was a performer (that was probably obvious, due to my being all dressed up snazzy in black, including my new black slinky rayon cowgirl shirt, resplete with rhinestoney details) -- he said sorry, they called it off due to the big storm coming, couldn't I tell that from the lightning every 5 seconds, the enormous dark clouds and ominous wind? Oh, I might have made up that last part. Anyway, sorry if any of you were out there and had to hightail it home. I was looking forward to the live televised part! Oh well.

August 4 will indeed feature us in Westport. I just updated our schedule page tonight. We're on at 9 pm at the Beaumont Club. I think you pay $5 and can go to all the showcases that night. Our friends The Afterparty were also nominated (Best New Act) and are also playing at the Beaumont later that night. Cool. And here's what's cool for us -- while we've been nominated for like the last 5 years for Best Country/Bluegrass Act, this year we found ourselves in a new category -- Best Live Act! Don't cha think that's cool? The best part of all is that YOU can vote! Check out my political activism!


I just did! You probably have to "complete the verification process" for your vote to count, so please follow through if'n you're willing to vote at all, ok? Now, let's have a winning ticket, folks!

Caught up as I was just now in my celebration of this country's rights (left over from Independence Day), I now forget whatever else I intended to update from your various posts. It's always an adventure hearing all your stories, and glad you all are still with us, escaping horrors daily. May they be much fewer and farther between for all...


Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Wilders go west, again...

June 11th, 2005-Canton, South Dakota:
A couple of summers ago, we played the Sioux River Folk Festival at this beautiful South Dakota state park location. We apparently made enough of an impact that they invited us back to play a fund raiser. From various conversations with some of the volunteers, the organizers are trying to get enough dough together to move a historic building into the state park to serve as a lodge. I'm not sure if I got all the details correct, but the building that they want to move was part of a mental institution that formerly housed "crazy indians". The guy who told me this actually made quotation marks in the air with his fingers when he said "crazy". He went on to explain that incorrigibles, few with mental illness beyond alcoholism, were regularly shipped to the nut house if they were causing problems on the reservation. To say the least, I am curious about the possible ghosts that might still inhabit this place and am looking forward to staying there if we get invited back.

But on to the show...
South Dakotans love their bluegrass and country music and we had no problem getting the small crowd bouncing in their lawn chairs for the early evening concert. At the end of the set (as was reported deep in the last set of comments), about 50 people got up and moved down to the lip of the stage to dance and scream their heads off. We finished the show at sunset by forgoing amplification and singing "Catfish Blues" right in their faces. Betse played her fiddle solos on her knees right in front of some lucky kids who will no doubt bug their parents for a fiddle for the rest of the summer. In short, it was a great way to start the tour.

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005-Moab, Utah:
Moab is the closest place to mars that I will probably ever get to go. Volcanism, wind and water have teamed up over millions of years to create a landscape that is dizzying in it's beauty. it's a funky place that attracts mountain bikers, river runners, motorcyclists, 4-wheelers etc. etc. Thus, with so much outdoor activity available, the visitors and residents of Moab have an almost orange color from deep and long exposure to the desert sun. We played an art fair in Moab as a pickup gig last summer and the organizers of the fair invited us back to play a proper concert this time at a renovated theater downtown called Star Hall. It was a great space with just the right amount of seats to make the small hall feel packed. We rocked and rolled for two sets giving the audience a good taste of what we do before closing it down with Nate's original tune "Honky Tonk Habit". Several folks came up to us after the show to talk and buy cd's. But one woman waited until the rest of the crowd left before moving in. She told me that she hadn't listened to country music for many, many years because it reminded her too much of her deceased father. She was noticeably emotional and I thanked her for her kind words before sending her out into the cool desert air with a smile on her face and several cd's in her hands. Country music reaches people on many different levels in many different ways. I'm regularly surprised by the impact our shows seem to have on people. I mean, basically we just jump around like a bunch of sugared up monkeys. But, like this Moab woman who missed her father, I think we oftentimes tap into a memory, a feeling, a connection that touches our audience deeply without us really even being aware of it. It's sort of scary and wonderful all at the same time.

Thursday, June 16th, 2005-Telluride, Colorado:
Ok, so why did we go to South Dakota, then Moab? Because we needed practice before hitting the biggest, most prestigious bluegrass festival in the west- TELLURIDE. After the southeast tour, the four of us used our precious three weeks off to get to know our families again, paint our houses, move personal belongings from one storage unit to another, go fishing and attend a fiddler's convention in Mt. Airy N.C. So we needed these two shows to get our game back for this huge festival at the foot of the 14,000 foot peaks of Colorado's San Juan Mountains. There was no shortage of hospitality provided for us. They put us up in a 3 story ski lodge with a jacuzzi, full kitchen, and private bathrooms for all. For transportation, we could call for a van or take three different gondola cars up and over the 10,580 foot mountain pass into town. Remember folks, this is a band who, until fairly recently, brought camping equipment to festivals. The downside to this beautiful place (for us flatlanders) is that there was no dang air to breathe. We all started feeling the altitude as we drove up and up and up to our lodge. Once there, it was an effort to carry our luggage into our rooms without getting out of breath. As is often the case in our band, this afforded an excellent opportunity for an Wilders "man challenge". Over the years, we have killed eons of time by challenging each other to various on-the-spot-sporting/ eating endeavors. Apple eating, underwater swimming as well as motel wrestling matches have been known to happen when we get bored and Betse usually has the common sense to avoid these childish acts (with the exception of her legendary surprise wrestling attacks). So Ike suggested that, for fun, we race each other up the side of the mountain to a bridge that was about 150 yards away. The grade of the hill was only about 20% but we were starting the race at over 9,000 feet above sea level. His only rule was that if you stopped, you had to stay where you were. The word GO was yelled and the race was on. It must have been pretty funny to anyone looking out of their condo to see three out-of-shape guys in cowboy boots lumbering up the trail. Nate and Ike immediately began a sprint while I laid back choosing the tortoise to their hare. I was starting to doubt my strategy due to their enormous lead when Nate suddenly stopped about 30 yards ahead of me (but still well short of the bridge) doubled over and panting, Ike made it a few steps past him to guarantee that he at least wouldn't be last in the competition before stopping too, doubled over and gasping for breath. Although I was getting winded too, I just kept plugging along until I caught up with the both of them and then kept going for another 50 feet or so before giving out too. As I walked back down the hill, I thought I would never catch my breath again. Incidentally, no one won the contest because none of us made it to the bridge.
But we didn't come to Telluride to fool around, we came to play and play we did. Our noon set on the main stage afforded us the opportunity to make a good first impression. Although the crowd seemed a little sleepy (probably from waiting in line half the night to claim their spot), there were audible swells as we furiously tried to tear up the stage. This is one of the largest audiences we've ever played to and we made the most of it for our 75 minutes. Later in the afternoon, we played another short set on the workshop stage in town and whipped the sunburnt crowd into a frenzy with a possessed version of The Golden Gate Quartet's "My Time's Done Come". Then we had a few hours to rest before a long final set at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon. This late night bar show is part of Telluride's Night-grass music series and it was our last chance to make an impression on the crowd before leaving the festival. Lets just say that all the hours in the van, the stress of performing on the main stage, lack of food and rest and a general feeling of exhaustion all worked to create an unstable rocket fuel that exploded on the little stage as soon as we hit the first note. Our energy level was as high as it gets as we ripped from one tune to the next as the crowd went crazy. After 60 minutes everyone was on their feet crammed up against the stage and loving it. We took a short break and were joined for the next two hours by our producer and new pal, Dirk Powell, who took our show up a notch by borrowing Betse's second fiddle and ripping some crazy cajun/honky tonk riffs on his button accordion. By the end of the show, most of the people who were within 10 feet of the stage (both men and women) had removed theirs shirts and were dripping in sweat. I'd say that we made an impression.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Motels, Motels, Motels

For those who have been reading these rambling updates for over a year now, I'm here to report that things have drastically changed for The Wilders. With The Chief in long term dry dock and with the addition of a nifty 4x6 foot bright red trailer tagging behind the Brown Clown (our Ford Econoline conversion van), we are able to move about the country at 70+ miles per hour carrying everything we need except our beds. It's cramped and smelly and we start to go out of our gourds after about 8 hours, but it's efficient and fast and, most of all, a quite reliable way to get from one end of the country to the other. Yes folks, we have become a band of motel dwellers. We drive all day and when we get to where we are going, we pull almost everything of importance to us out of the van and trailer and lug it into our motel rooms for the night. Hopefully the nonsmoking rooms don't stink of smoke (or worse, Febreez- what the hell are they trying to cover up anyway?) Hopefully the motel has a continental breakfast in the morning that, at least, offers some fresh fruit. Hopefully the water pressure is decent and you don't get scalded if the person in the room next to you flushes the toilet. Hopefully the beds are clean and the pillows aren't so big and fluffy that you wake up in the morning with a sore neck. And hopefully, the toilet paper is softer than 60 grit sandpaper. These are the things that you think about while you are waiting to check in. Out of pure monetary motivation, we are partial to the Motel 6 chain, but, on occasion, we will stay at the mom and pop type places too if that's what we can afford. For example, last week we stayed at a funky place in Missouri Valley, Iowa called the Rath Inn. We arrived after midnight and checked into the only room they had, a smoking suite with 4 beds! It was a curious, smelly, but ultimately comfortable place to spend about 8 hours. Please understand folks that this is a really weird way to live- moving from one room to another loading and unloading our stuff throughout the country. But sometimes it's comfortable and you never have to stand in line to take a shower.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Contest Results!

Thanks to all who participated -- I'll be compiling a scrapbook of everything you sent! Eventually it would be fun to have an online scrapbook and I'll keep you posted.

Here's the winning photo! Taken by Mary B. (yes, she is our agent, but everyone was eligible) This was taken at Merlefest, and yes it does include Dirk Powell (but that's not why it won)

Here's why I made this #1. The framing of the shot is so dang cool. It just so happened in this instance that having Dirk there on the far right made for such a natural frame, and look at the movement on the right & the left w/ Ike. Yes, the mic is almost in the way. But not enough to kill it. Yes, my face is a little blurry. But look, Ma, no background (practically)! However, the final key ingredient for a winning photo is here: ACTION. An image that gives an idea of what you see when you see us perform... the excitement, the energy, that Wilders Thing... you can see it, right? Well, I can!

And, I am using it in the No Depression ad... with the help of a filter, the blurs don't matter anymore:

Congratulations, Mary! This is gonna look so cool in print. It's gonna be black and white, fyi.

There are several notable runners-up, and if you will each email me your snail mailing address, I'll make sure you get something special, too.

This one was a joint effort from Tammy & Rina... Taken just this past Sunday at the Replay Lounge in Lawrence... the action makes it notable... we're really leaning into it!

Here's one from Kim R. From Winfield 2004. I like the side angle for something different.

This one is from Dana. Also from Winfield 2004. For those who know us, it should be evident this was taken at the gospel set!

And, honorable mention goes to Loudon T. Also from Merlefest. I LOVE the action and if we'd seen Nate in the pic... anyway, it's fun!

Hope y'all enjoy seeing these! And even though THIS contest is over, I always love getting pics of us. Send 'em any time!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Photo contest!

Well, gang,

Since brotherphil is extra busy (that dude is hardly ever NOT busy), I offer a new header, new photo, but no real news. However, I do have a new contest! Whoo-hoo!

This photo was sent by Jeremy Rosenshine who was at the Greeley Roundup... Thanks Jer. Anyone else have some from last weekend?

OK -- here's the contest. I am looking for a good live image of us to use in our next ad for No Depression. (that's an alt-country magazine, not a psychological journal) I don't have anything I'm real excited about for that purpose yet. The best kind of photo would have not much going on in the background, and needs to show all our faces, and needs to be in focus. That's tough, I know! I need this photo no later than Monday, May 23, in order to use it.

If YOU have a good recent photo of us that you would like to submit for this use, you may win yourself an autographed photo of us (our Official Promotional Photo -- these are not for sale)! So, here are the guidelines -- in order to win, you gotta pay attention to these!

* Photo must be in digital format. (Scanned is ok)
* Photo must be at least 500K and no larger than 3 MB at time of sending. Jpg format preferred.
* Must show each Wilder's face (that's the biggest challenge -- gotta see Nate!)
* Does not have to be an on-stage photo.
* Must be taken no earlier than August 2004.
* Must be sent to: no later than 1 pm, Monday, May 23.
* The most favorite photo will be considered for use in the ND ad. The winner will receive an autographed picture of the Wilders!
* Winner's photo and runners-up will also be posted here on the blog.
* This contest is my spur-of-the-blog-moment idea and therefore is entirely subjective -- my favorite will win!

As an example -- though I enjoy the photo above, it would not win the contest (sorry, Jer, nothing personal!). We are not quite in focus (another challenge when capturing us in a show, I know!); Ike's face is too shadowed (though I can do some work with that in Photoshop); and the background w/ the Greeley banner makes it really hard to get rid of the background (which I'd need to do for the ad). Also a preferred photo would be more of a close-up on the band (I can crop, but that's more manipulation and lower resolution potentially). Hopefully this will help clarify what I'm looking for.

Also, though, if your photo of us doesn't fit the requirements, you can still send it for fun! Just please keep it no larger than 1 MB for the fun ones. I'm still living with dialup slow-mo modem.

All right! This'll be fun!

Any questions?

Monday, May 09, 2005

Ants are taping names at Merlefest

We've been home for almost a week and it seems only natural that we're leaving this weekend... in fact I'm looking forward to it... though I must say I'm glad to only pack for a few days this time. That's one of the hardest things for tme is trying to decide what to bring -- I like to be prepared for about anything and that makes for some heavy baggage!

So a few responses are due here...

- Ants. Last summer on our first long tour, I parked my car at our friend Kc's house, in his driveway by his back yard. Specifically, on this concrete slab next to his driveway which was mostly covered in grass and some vines and such... it's not used often. When I picked up my car after it sat there for a month, I noticed a few ants on the door or somewhere. Drove it home and the next day when I opened my door, I saw a multitude of ants in the inside of the door, at the floor level.

For those of you who don't already know this, I am not exactly happy about lots of bugs being around me.

Well, I swept those ants out and maybe later that day I opened the passenger door. Same story over there. Ick. More sweeping. Even more ants coming out the hood of the car and around the back hatch as well. I got some ant traps and some killer spray and spent the next number of days spraying and sweeping and almost weeping from frustration. They weren't coming out the vents, but they did start making a move toward the center of the car and I was feeling like I was living in some kind of horror movie. I don't remember all the details -- I try to block out yucky things like that from my memory -- but my friend Kim (S., not W.) said she would help me out and bomb it with some of that ant-and-pest-heavy-duty-bug-bomb-type-stuff when we left again (maybe a week or so later). About all I remember after that was that the bomb didn't work when I talked to Kim. However, a couple of days after the bombing, Kim's partner Mark said to her that he would talk to the ants and simply ask them to leave. Now, if anyone has the power to do that, it would probably be Mark (and maybe, Baby Gramps). And you had better believe that those ants took off. End of story, I'm telling the truth as it was told to me and I have no reason not to believe it.

A related story about me and bug phobias took place last year at Tick Fest. No, the pest wasn't a tick but was a wasp nest. There are always lots of wasps at the ranch and that's almost scarier to me than ticks. Well, throughout the weekend I went in and out of the ranch house and maybe once noticed a wasp flying around the door when I entered. I just tried to pretend I wasn't scared (they can smell it, you know) and then tried to forget about it. I never knew about the nest until Kim and Mark told me, and I think they might have told me after the ants were asked to leave my car. Cause, you see, Mark had talked to the wasps too, and had asked them to not bother me, and in return, they could keep their nest where they'd put it, right over the door of the ranch.

Thanks, Mark.

- Merlefest. After a hard month of touring and making no money, this was about the best reward we could have gotten. I may try to write a whole post about it but for now, I will say that the response we got was really probably the highest powered, most exuberant, and genuinely rewarding experience for me, anyway. I mean, we've gotten some great love from audiences, from our dear friends here at home to new audiences like Wintergrass earlier this year... but standing up after a few songs? Whoa mule! I still shake my head in amazement when I think about it.

In conclusion, thanks to everyone at Merlefest -- we talked to so many awesome folks and I also want to welcome our new groopers!

This brings us to another response:

- Taping. And photographing. Or videoing. We are absolutely okay with it. If that ever changes, we'll get the word out. But all we ask is that you share the goodies with us. We'll give you an address if you talk to us at a show. I don't know what the Greeley fest rules are, but I'd bet that it's okay there. I think very few festivals are like Winfield in that regard.

We actually really enjoy hearing our shows because it helps us to learn more about how we're doing. We are now posting live stuff on our Listen page and have used tracks done by others there, and that's fun for anyone who's visiting the site.

The only thing that would not be okay (and I don't think this is happening, but just in case) is for anyone to tape our show and then sell it. Cause that hurts us, ouch. We won't sell what you tape unless we talk to you about it first, but we wouldn't plan for that anyway. But we would like the option of posting mp3s on our site if that's okay with you.

OK? Great! And please come up and introduce yourself this weekend! Or any other time, for the rest of you.

- What about the name game??

I must say that brophil's contest sure brought out the creative side in all of you. There were some interesting suggestions! This is Phil's contest and hmmm, he never did say which one he or we liked best, did he? But did you notice that it was whichever name that was liked the best, and that name would not necessarily become the van's name? It's implied but not implicit.... I wonder how many of you are shocked right now! Anyway, take a deep breath. We kinda played around with some names on the road but nothing worked or felt right. We kinda decided that we'd just let a name happen rather than work on it too hard. Then on our last night at Merlefest, I was talking to Nate and it just came out... we were talking about McDonald's for some reason. Who cares, except that it's an inside band joke cause we do try to avoid eating there -- we call it the Brown Clown, or sometimes the Brown Frown (which is a derogatory expression for the aftereffects of eating there)... this is necessary for you to understand what happened next. I said, hey, that's the van! The Brown Clown! It made us both laugh and the next day on the way home we made it official. But we didn't christen it with a big mac or anything! I don't know, this story came out awkwardly but at the time it was funny and see, this van is not quite as closely beloved to us as even Gladys (our first van) was. We don't want to get too attached to it. The Clown is going to help us to get to the next transportation level, and then it's seeyalateralligator.

Any other answers or questions?

Friday, April 22, 2005

Take a walk on the bright side

Well, it's drizzling today as we get ready to leave Athens OH. I heard it's gonna be rainy and cold this weekend in Pittsburg PA. Maybe snow on Sunday! But we all don't need more darkness in our lives. Lord knows we all have enough challenges and so here are a few things that I can think of on the bright side of this tour leg.

Got to meet my 1 year old neice. My brother and his family moved to Johnson City, TN, just in time for us to come there and play. My nephews are 7 and almost 6 and I haven't seen them in at least two years (they were living in England while my brother had a job over there). I had some fun conversations with my oldest nephew, Clay, and his brother Edgar was surprisingly astute and observant. And Evie just has a permanent grin on her face -- how lovely.

We got to play a song with Julie Lee in Nashville. She's got the voice of an angel and the disposition of a saint. Look her up on the web -- she has a beautiful site as well as spirit.

Saw some great music in Atlanta. Capt. Soular Cat wowed us on the main stage before our set at Dogwood. Those guys rock. Hope to see them again. Then, that night, we all thought we'd found Mark Smeltzer's long-lost uncle or something when we saw Baby Gramps. Oh... my... can't hardly describe him but you should just try to find him in concert or get his DVD if you want to be amazed.

Driving through the Smoky Mountain National Park. Rain couldn't spoil this beauty.

Seeing my friend Aimee (we've been friends since college, 19 years) and her husband, and their new baby Ian. Ian is teething but it's a wonder to meet him and see this lovely family grow.

Woodsongs Show. That was a real experience and I hope we can do it again. It's archived too if you missed it.

That's a start anyway and you know what? the rain has stopped at least for now. Good sign and also time to check out.

Check out some beauty of your own today -- just keep your eyes and mind open and you will most likely be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Paying Dues

It's embarrassing that I haven't written a single word since we entered British Columbia. We were gone from KC for over 5 weeks and I barely got us to Tacoma, Washington. That was the FIRST WEEKEND. So many things happened before and after. But I've pretty much dug myself in a hole from which I will never climb out. Much as I want to continue the "We Tried" story, I just can't bring myself to write another word about it. So, until I get over the writer's block, I decided to simply try to get everybody up to speed on our current tour. Thanks to my dad's eagle eyes, we found and purchased a 1997 Ford Econoline conversion van with emergency funds thankfully loaned to us by Big Guy Loans in Fayetteville, Arkansas. Our old friend Leo loaned us a 4x6 trailer to haul all our crap and, with the last minute addition of a trailer hitch and license plates, away we went. So what follows is what's happened since. Those seeking thoughtful prose may just as well give up and go read a good book. But for everybody else, here's the Reader's Digest version...

Thursday, April 7th: Played The Station Inn in Nashville Tennessee for the first time. This is the preeminent bluegrass club in Music City. Opening was our new pal, Julie Lee, who we met last October at IBMA in Louisville. We all jumped in with her on "Stillhouse Road", before doing our own thing in front of a small, but receptive audience. Thunderstorms pounded Nashville for the entire show.

Friday, April 8th: Played The Down Home in Johnson City, Tennessee. A smaller but more enthusiastic crowd (of mostly employees) rocked and rolled with us all night. Everybody told us, "next time you come here, the place will be packed!". Then we squeezed into our new van and drove all night to Atlanta. We arrived at about 6am just before the sun came up. Uhhhgggg.

Saturday, April 9th: Played two shows at the Atlanta Dogwood Festival. Once again, weather kept the crowds away. But we made some new friends and sold some CD's before regrouping for a show with blues-woman, Donna Hopkins at The Mambo Room in downtown Atlanta. The highlight of the show was the opening act, Baby Gramps. I can't possibly try to describe what this guy does. I'll just say that he played a strange form of solo blues that left the entire band gape-mouthed and screaming at the tops of our lungs.

Sunday, April 10th: Played a set at The Red Light Cafe' in Atlanta with our friend Paul Snyder's old band, Whoa Nelly. Not too many people came to this one either but we had fun regardless. After the gig, we repacked the van and drove to a very sketchy Motel 6 by the airport for some much needed rest.

Monday, April 11th: Played a few tunes on a local Atlanta community radio station before heading out on the highway for a short drive to Athens, Georgia. After the Motel 6 the night before, we decided to treat ourselves to a slightly more expensive Best Western just out of downtown. Betse and lucked out but Ike and Nate had to move to three times before settling for a "only slightly stinky" room.

Tuesday, April 12th: Played a set at Tasty World in downtown Athens between a world music fusion group called The Would Be Farmers and local Athens bluegrass heroes The Packway Handle Band. Continuing the trend, there were few people attending but those that were there were very pleased by our performance. Mercifully, the owner of the club gave us $50 for gas money after the show.

Wednesday, April 13th: Left Athens for Knoxville, Tennessee. Drove through Smoky Mountain National Park. Due to weather, not much in the way of Mountains were seen. There was plenty of smoke, however. With tax day looming over us, we checked into a Comfort Inn advertising high speed wireless internet which turned out to be completely fictional due to an electrical storm which affected their connection. Laptops were pulled out and tax software was anguished over for the rest of the night.

Thursday, April 14th: Tax anguish continued the next morning before we suited up and headed to play The Blue Plate Special lunchtime show on WDVX in Knoxville with Tony Furtado. Despite the early show, we turned in a solid performance and (hopefully) made many new fans amongst the listeners of this popular live show. Then it was back to the Comfort Inn for more numbers crunching. Everybody's stomach hurt by bedtime. Moral of this story: self employment taxes are punishing.

Friday, April 15th: Woke up early to finish printing tax forms. Then it was back to downtown Knoxville for banking and mailing. The stress seemed to melt away as each envelope slid through the wall.

Now we are back on the road en-route to Boone, N.C. We have a show there tonight and another tomorrow in Asheville, N.C. In the wise words of our friend Seamus McGreevy, "It's a hard life, but it's a good life too."

As yet, the van is still unnamed. So, for the rest of this tour we will entertain your thoughts on the subject. The person who submits the van name we like the best will win an assortment of live Wilders recordings from the western "We Tried" tour.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

We Tried: Part Four

For the next 5 hours, everyone tried to sleep as best as they could in the cramped mini-van while I worked to put some serious distance between The Wilders and our 30 foot home-away-from-home. My eyes were burned out due to exhaustion and the intermittent rain but I focused them on a truck just ahead of us, allowing the driver to lead my way into the New Mexico morning. With the dawn approaching, I stopped for gas near the Arizona border and handed the keys to Nate. I don't remember much from that point on, but I soon awoke to see the brown landscape of Tucson out the window.

We arrived at the Voyager RV Resort at around 10:30am, met by Tucson angel, Don Meyer (see "Desert Angels II, Tucson, AZ"-June 13, 2004 in our blog archives for our first meeting with this fine gentleman) Don took our weary crew out to breakfast and then we returned to his RV to get organized for our flight and take some much needed showers. Don and his wife, Kay, had offered to take us to the Tucson airport and we gladly accepted their generosity, frankly glad to be rid of the responsibility of driving or repairing vehicles for the next few days. They dropped us at the Alaska Air terminal and we headed toward the airport security checkpoint. As a precautionary measure, we had planned to carry our instruments all the way to the gate so that they could be loaded on to the plane last on top of the rest of the baggage. We took off our shoes and piled our carry on luggage on the conveyer belt and as we sent our cases through the X-ray, I heard one officer shout, "They've got tools!". Also, the new pair of Levis that I wore through the metal detecter set off an alarm and I was taken aside, wanded and patted down while I watched one of the officers leaving with my banjo case. After a pair of my wire cutters, a small banjo wrench and Ike's multi-tool were confiscated, we were allowed to continue on into the boarding area. The exhaustion and stress were evident on everyone's faces but soon we were sitting, like lumps of drying clay, in the boarding area waiting for our plane.

We Tried: Part Three

It was about 5:30pm when the boys ran off to fetch an electric fuel pump and some additional parts while April took me to the nearby town of Los Lunos, NM to pick up a mini-van. Although I held on to the hope that the boys would still be able to fix the venerable Chieftain, Betse and I agreed that it would be wise to rent the van as an precautionary measure against the worst case scenario. You see, we HAD to be in Tucson, Arizona (about an 8 hour drive) by noon the next day in order to catch our flights to Tacoma, Washington to debut at the Tacoma "Wintergrass" Festival. Not only was this a fantastic opportunity to introduce ourselves to the Northwest bluegrass audience, it was also our first decent pay of the tour AND an opportunity to sell a lot of c.d.'s. Since we had already spent a great deal on the Chief just getting it ready for the road, it was crucial that we make this gig- no matter what...

By the time I got back to the restaurant parking lot, the remaining light of the day had disappeared over the western mountains replaced by a menacing black cloud filled with freezing rain and just starting to soak the asphalt. I parked, and as I stepped out of the van, I saw a white sedan parked nose-to-nose with the Chief with the stereo blaring from it's open doors. I immediately recognized the tune, "Run to the Hills", by Iron Maiden. I heard a muffled yell from underneath, "Nate. Start it up!" . This was followed quickly by, "Turn it off, Turn it OFF!" Apparently, Nappy had been holding the fuel pump wires and since he was now lying in icy water, he had been shocked badly. Within a few minutes, a small, but powerfully framed man with closely cropped hair crawled out from under the RV. Nappy was all business but said a quick hello to me before stepping back inside the Chief. I followed him inside and watched Nate pump the gas a few more times before retrying the key. The engine complained and sputtered at first but finally started up to sound of many Wilder cheers. Elated, we let the engine idle and started putting away the tools that littered the parking lot.

Ike gave Nappy a dry Green Bay Packers T-shirt to wear, and we offered him some cash and our deepest gratitude for his effort. He jumped back into his sedan and roared off into the New Mexico night with Iron Maiden blaring as we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was now about 8pm and I jumped behind the wheel of the Chief, hastily fleeing the parking lot while Betse followed in the rental van. Our plan now was to drive back to Los Lunos to drop off the mini-van. As I pulled back onto the highway, I noticed that the Chief was running well but did not have a great deal of power. We made the 15 minute drive without incident but as soon as I pulled off the highway at the Los Lunos exit, the engine died. We were on a downhill slope and I let it coast into a wide gravel pullout at the bottom of the hill. Ike and Nate pulled off the engine shroud, suspicious that the wire connections to the new fuel pump must have somehow shaken loose. Ike crawled back under The Chief to inspect the wiring while I jumped out to inform Betse of our latest disaster. Ike found some questionable wire connections and called Nappy to ask if there might be anything else that could have caused the RV to stall. A few more adjustments were performed under Nappy's cellular tutelage and, within an hour, The Chief fired back up. Ike and Nate both felt that it would be prudent to test drive the RV a bit more before embarking on an 8 hour drive in the middle of the night. So, with Betse following in the rental van, we drove back towards Albuquerque with the plan that if The Chief performed without incident for at least an hour, it would be safe to return the rental van and get back on the road to Tucson.

By the time we got to Albuquerque it was after 10pm and everyone was famished. We pulled into a McDonalds parking lot and went in to get some horrible road food and discuss the situation. Surrounding me at the table were three seriously tired and depressed faces. We choked down our burgers, and each of us weighed in on the pros and cons of taking The Chief any farther. Although we had "insurance" in the form of a mini-van, all of us really preferred to go to Tucson in our RV and agreed that if the Winnebago made it back to Los Lunos without failure, we would drop off the mini-van and get back on our way. Ike took the wheel and we rolled the 45 minutes back to Los Lunos with absolutely no problem whatsoever. As he took the Los Lunos exit, Ike punched the gas to the floor a couple of times daring The Chief to quit on us again. He made the turn east and started to roll back down the hill into town. Then, without warning, the engine stalled again and as Ike cranked the wheel into a gas station parking lot, I looked at him and said, "that's it, The Chief's done." It was now after midnight.

Exhausted and dejected, everybody jumped into the RV and began packing their gear for the trip to Tucson. By the time Nate and I got the mini-van loaded, there was barely enough room for four people to squeeze into their seats. Ike was able to fire back up The Chief and we decided the best option was to drive the RV back to Belen, NM, park it at the restaurant parking lot, and to call Nappy the next morning to beg him to work on it while we were gone. Ike drove The Chief with extreme caution the 15 minutes back to Belen. As he pulled back into the Jake and Andre's Restaurant lot, the RV died again. Ike tried in vain to start it back up but The Chief was going to roll no further. We hid a key for Nappy and then crammed ourselves into the minivan. I sat down behind the wheel and mentally prepared for an 8-hour drive starting at 2:30am. With everyone on board, I pulled back onto I-25 south and tried to quell my dread as icy drops of rain began to splatter on the windshield.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

I'm so distracted

Hi folks,

I just can't seem to write an entry right now. I want to and I know that y'all want to know how we are and should hear from us more often. At least broPhil has kept you in the loop more than me. I have various reasons why I have been less forthcoming... but they may come out sounding like excuses and I don't want to do that. My biggest reason is distraction. Lots of thoughts in my head and can't settle in on any one thing long enough to write about it.

But I can do this.... I will make a few summarizing statements for my own self:

Things picked up a LOT once we hooked up w/ the Crooked Jades. Especially post-L.A. We all love them and miss them already. But we also love Foghorn and had a great time at the sold-out show last night. Will be with them in a couple hours for another night of fun.

It's really really hard to tour without the Chief. I can get out the computer and write an entry on the Chief. I can move around. I can knit or sew repairs on the seats. I can _do_ stuff. I can sleep in my own bunk. I can keep all my hanging clothes hanging. I can read before bed with my little lamp.

I can't do any of that too well in the van. Especially move around! I didn't even bring my knitting due to the shortness of space... and bedside lamp? Please! But a couple of times, I have thought that if we'd been in the Chief we'd have had a hard time. San Francisco. Even Portland to a degree. And on highway 299 in northern California.... steep, windy (as in crooked, not the atmospheric kind)... it would have been an even longer, slower drive in Chief.

I think maybe we are going to need to consider a van in addition to the Chief, for different kinds of tours? Geez. How much more debt can we get into? Don't answer that, I think I know this one.

Thanks everyone for being there... we miss you all and I'll really try to be better. I know, I've said that before. And I'll probably say it again.

Take care and be well....

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

We Tried: Part Two

The morning after the blow out, we were able to get two new tires installed at a local Ponca City tire dealer. After paying for the tires, Ike and I went across the street to an O'Reilly Auto Parts store and purchased our own 12-ton bottle jack. By noon, we were back on the road, tired, but grateful for the experience. Now we had the knowledge and the means to change a flat once and for all. We kept our stops to a minimum and made it to an Albuquerque, New Mexico RV park by 10pm. Our friend, April, who was visiting friends in Albuquerque, met us the next morning for a New Mexico breakfast of huevos rancheros and then we were back on the road toward Tucson, Arizona. I took the first shift, and feeling a little more rested, settled into Albuquerque traffic. About 30 minutes into the trip, I noticed that The Chief's power seemed to be cutting out. I would push on the accelerator and feel a hesitation in the gas flow. It didn't seem like an emergency, but we decided to pull off at the next exit in Belen, New Mexico to inspect the engine. As I pulled off the highway, the engine stalled and I had to crank the wheel violently to maneuver the RV into a rolling stop outside a restaurant. The boys pulled off the engine shroud and started looking things over while I went inside to let the restaurant owners know why we had blocked about 7 of their parking spaces. Nate guessed that the fuel pump might be the culprit and a plan was hatched to try to get the engine started again to get to an auto parts store for a new pump. Unfortunately, The Chief would not start and, luckily, we were able to reach April again-begging her to come rescue us. She arrived in about half an hour and the boys took off to get the parts.

Betse and I remained behind and distracted ourselves from the situation by watching two young New Mexican boys skateboarding the parking lot. We could tell that they were curious about us, but they kept their distance at first. After awhile, the older of the boys asked Betse what we were doing. She explained that we had broken down and were trying to get the RV fixed. With their questions answered satisfactorily, Betse slipped inside The Chief and grabbed her video camera to tape the boys as they carved up and down the parking lot. We found out that the boys were the restaurant owner's kids, and the namesakes of the restaurant we had rolled into- Jake and Andre's. With the ice broken, I gathered up some courage and ask Andre if I could have a turn on his skateboard while we waited for Ike and Nate to return.

Within an hour, April's Subaru came back into view and Nate put on his coveralls and broke out the tools. He didn't think it was going to be a particularly difficult fix and Betse and I relaxed as he climbed under The Chief and set about pulling off the old fuel pump. The afternoon was slipping past and, although I had confidence in our two mechanics, I began to formulate alternative travel plans in case the fuel pump switch failed to get our RV back on the road. With the old pump removed, Ike and Nate carefully went to work installing it's replacement. It turned out to be slightly more difficult than they had anticipated, but soon the pump was on and Nate sent Ike up top to turn the engine over. The engine cranked and cranked but it still wouldn't start. Score: Chief two, Wilders zero.

While we stood in the parking lot, Ike and Nate both grabbed their cell phones and began furiously making calls for advice while pacing incessantly around the RV. Betse and decided to start working on the alternative plan to get the band to Tucson and walked to a nearby hotel to borrow a yellow pages to investigate our van rental options. It was now 5pm and with our remaining light vanishing, I was able to reserve a mini van in the nearby town of Los Lunos about 15 minutes away. Before we could get out of the hotel lobby, Ike called me on my cell phone and told me someone had stopped to help and that there might still be hope. He told me that while they were in the parking lot on their phones, a man pulled up to the restaurant to drop off his daughter for work. He asked them what the problem was and when they explained the situation, he jumped out and picked up the old fuel pump that was lying on the ground. He pumped the arm that attaches to a cam inside the engine and pushed it a couple of times until gas sprayed out the other end. "This pumps still good," he said. Our newest angel, Napoleon "Nappie" Munoz, was now on the scene.

Monday, March 07, 2005

We Tried: Part One

It was Thursday afternoon, March 3rd, and we were all very, very tired. " Hey dude," Ike said as came out from under The Chief with something shiny in his hand, "check this out." I walked over and looked at a tiny flat metal object held between his grease stained fingers. He said, "I found this under there." The metal plate looked like it had come off an old trophy, the kind that kids get when they don't win, or for that matter, place in the competition. Inscribed on the plate were two simple, but prophetic words: "We Tried".

It's now Sunday, March 6th and I'm typing this in the back seat of a rented 15 passenger van. Our western tour continues. But as we make our way from Parker, Arizona to Los Angeles, California, we are suffering from the loss of one of our crucial members...The Chief.

The tour started out well enough. Our first date, playing at Bob Wills home base, Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa, Oklahoma, gave us a shaky but successful start. Our performance legs were rusty from lack of use and we all had to work at it to get our groove back. The next day we were up and quickly down the road to the Kansas Bluegrass Association's Winterfest, in Wichita, Kansas. We made our first show in the nick of time (which isn't that unusual). With two shows now under out belt, we pulled out our best for our evening headline set. Betse played like a demon throughout the show and we ended by featuring four brand new tunes, each written by one member of the band. Thankfully, the crowd went wild.

The next morning, The Chief was running like crap but we were able to get him up the road to Andover, Kansas for a day of much needed maintenance. Our friends Connie and Conan, had dedicated their entire Sunday to helping us get our rig ready for the road. They found us a great deal on a new air conditioner and asked their RV guru, Larry for a few hours of his time to install it and give the ol' Chieftain a good looking over. Larry brought his 17-year-old son, Seth, who proved to be not only a mechanical genius, but a circus-caliber contortionist as well. Nate and Seth set about replacing all the spark plugs and wires while Ike and Larry put in the new AC unit. Seth practically bent in half behind the front wheels to get to the plugs which, one by one, he tossed out on the ground for us to see. Each plug was burned and shriveled like overcooked link sausages. Then he went to work on the plug wires which had a similar carbonized patina. One wire was completely melted on one end and I overheard him say to no one in particular, "Man, I don't know how this thing even started up." When the day was done, our beloved Winnebago had working air conditioning, a tune up and a completely (or so we thought) waterproof roof. We even learned how to use the propane tank to run the refrigerator- a problem that had plagued us in the west the previous year. We all went to bed feeling really good about ourselves and really good about The Chief. This was going to be a heck of a tour. The next day we slept late and then set about cleaning up the mess we made the day before. With all the cd's packed away, everybody's personal gear stowed in it's place and a new and improved Chief ready to roll, we broke free of Connie and Conan's driveway around 5:30pm in hopes of making it at least halfway to Tucson, Arizona before bed.

We were about an hour outside of Wichita when a we heard a loud bang under our feet. Luckily, there was a rest area just ahead and we pulled off to inspect the source of the noise. We had blown out the outside right back tire. Nate pulled out the tire iron and I started removing the spare from the back while Ike tried to figure out how the old scissors jack might be operated. In vain, we all tried to get the jack to work, but it seemed impossibly rusted and also much too small to ever lift the behemoth is was under. Luckily, within minutes, the handle broke off and we saved ourselves the embarrassment of any further effort. We still had one aired up tire on that side and, with the help of a map and a cell phone, made a plan to limp the RV about 30 miles to Ponca City, Oklahoma to a 24 hour Wal Mart to buy a proper jack. We drove very slowly with our hazards on, but let me tell you, it was 30 seriously nerve racking miles. If the remaining tire blew out from the extra weight, we would be dead in the water. But by 10:30pm, we made it to the store, parked in an out-of-the-way location and headed in. We agreed on a 3-ton shop jack (the biggest one they had) that looked like it had plenty of power to get us safely off the ground. We paid for it and went back outside and started pumping. Although the chassis moved up several inches, we still could not get enough clearance to get the blown tire off, much less the full-of-air spare tire back on. We checked the operator's manual on the jack and it seemed like it was in perfect working order. Score: Chief one, Wilders zero.

With no other option, we called AAA RV and within an hour, a kid who seemed barely old enough to drive, showed up in a tow truck. With the poisonous diesel fumes still idling from his exhaust, the kid pulled out another 3-ton shop jack and started pumping. Not surprisingly, his 3-ton jack moved the chassis just about as far as our had. We all sort of scratched our heads as we realized that you can't use a 3-ton jack to lift a 30 foot Winnebago. Then a light bulb suddenly lit up over my head. We still had a perfectly good, albeit bald, full-of-air-tire on the inside of the blow out. Couldn't we just drive the inside tire up on a couple of boards? Wouldn't that make it easy and safe to remove the outside tire with no jack even necessary? Now, I make no claims to have any mechanical aptitude whatsoever and usually try to help out Ike and Nate in these situations by fetching tools or holding the flashlight where needed. So, not surprisingly, everybody agreed that this was a genius level moment for me. We fetched two of the boards we use to level the RV and within seconds the tire was raised and ready to be switched. I went to get the spare and Ike started removing the lug nuts. Strangely though, no matter how much he loosened them, the bolts still seemed tight. We thought maybe the lugs were just rusty and we each took turns forcing them and forcing them until finally we got all of them off. Nate grabbed the blown out tire and it still seemed to be stuck on the lugs. He gave it a kick and the bad tire finally fell off. That's when we realized that there was only one set of lugs for BOTH WHEELS. Now, because the inside wheel still had the full weight of the RV on it, we realized that our remaining wheel was now ready to fall off too. Nate inspected the wheel and saw that it had shifted slightly out toward the top. There was still plenty of lug showing but we realized that this was an extremely dangerous situation. SO MUCH FOR MY GENIUS MOMENT. We considered our plight and there was brief talk about trying to put the lug nuts back on for safety but none of us would volunteer for this hazardous duty. Stupidly, we had dismissed the AAA kid and now realized that we were going to have to call him back and request a much stronger jack than you can buy at Wal Mart. Ike called AAA RV again and within an hour, the kid rolled back up. He reached behind the truck seat and pulled out a much smaller bottle shaped jack. "This one's a 12-tonner," he said above the noise of the idling diesel, "I think this one will get her up." He quickly set about placing the tiny jack under the chassis and with about 25 short pumps, The Chief was listing like the Titanic. With the weight off the precarious wheel, the AAA kid started working to get it back into place. The downward force had made the wheel tilt out slightly and now it was seriously jammed. The kid started shoving the wheel from outside the fender but it still would not budge. Ike and I then watched in horror as he sat down under the jacked up wheel and started kicking it repeatedly until it finally dislodged and he was able to shove it back into it's original position. Then, without batting an eye, he grabbed the spare tire, shoved it into place, and spun the lug nuts back on. It was now about 3:00am. We followed the AAA kid back to his shop to check the air pressure in the spare and then headed back into town to reluctantly grab two motel rooms for the first sleep deprived night of the tour. It wouldn't be the last...