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.