Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ah!!! The Old Home Town and American Byways.

Yesterday morning after it finally stopped raining (I was ready to look for the ark) I forded the rivers still running down from the mountain and loaded my truck and headed downhill for Illinois. 910 miles later, I've arrived. Isn't it a good feeling to actually get out of the truck after so much driving? I think so. Mind, it was fairly pleasant. I got to listen and listen to all those CDs I've been meaning to get to; a couple great songwriters sent me CDs to listen to and all the familiar and not-so-familiar Stanley Brothers songs. I've really been enjoying the new Grascals release and David Peterson's latest.

There's no way around it: the interstates are just as dull as porridge. And I hate that. Me, I'm a backroads kind of girl. So I kind of satisfied a bit of my tendency by taking Route 28 West through the Catskills, then 30 South through Downsville and past the old site of the Peaceful Valley festival (Shinhopple, NY). Both Downsville and Shinhopple were recently devastated by flood waters - and after that 24-hour rain we had, the old east branch of the Delaware River was again pretty hard-pressed to mind its manners and stay its course. Hopped on 17 west and when I got to Binghamton I naturally decided to drive through more of my childhood by staying on 17 west and giving it a go all the way across the Southern Tier of New York (a lovely place, I might add). Not to worry. The mighty Susquehanna, the Allegany and a few other mud-and-flood swollen rivers kept me company. I've got to say old 17 is a darned sight better road than it has been since...well, probably since it was built. It used to be a totally bumpedy-bump affair, but it was right smooth and especially gorgeous over the 300 miles I followed it; maybe a few rough spots, but on the whole...AND...there was like NO TRAFFIC. It was like many of those parkways that cut east to west across Kentucky. It's easy to feel like you're the only one on the road.

I darned sure enjoyed that drive through New York State, possibly more than any in recent memory (the drive to Pickin' in the Pasture was also most enjoyable, except for my sprained ankle and the matter of using the clutch 1000 times with same ankle). Around Binghamton it was predictably dreary (they, too, suffered extensive flood damage at the end of June); someone recently said they have less sunny days than...well, never mind. But it cleared up somewhere around Elmira and it was a glorious nearly-fall day from then on. That 17 is a lovely drive with soft hills and mountains, hundreds of farms all along the way, and a river often running alongside.

Then I got to the craziness of 90 West and the fun went out the window. I had to put on some Stanley Brothers to ease my mind. From there it was interstate after interstate until I finally decided some sleep might be in order and stopped around Columbus. Now I don't like ANY hotels, but when I'm desperate I stop at Motel 6, thinking they are cheap and I know what to expect. As Motel 6's go, the one near Columbus was pretty nice, but geez, $47 for one person! Down in Wytheville Virginia I reckon I don't pay much more than $30 for the same room.

But I digress. I just spend the night in the room trying not to touch anything, if you know what I mean. That's why I'd really rather sleep in the back of my truck with my own germs than stay in a motel. No kidding. But there's the safety factor, and while I sleep in my truck at a bluegrass festival, I don't feel safe doing that out in the world at large.

After about 600 miles you stop and decide it's time to sleep and you're exhausted and you even take a hot shower to further beckon slumbertime....but sleep won't come. It's too early. You're too wound up from 3 or 4 cokes and road food and your body feels like it's still racign forward at 70 mph when you're actually lying in a bed. Whatever. Mind, the bed was very comfy, but I just couldn't sleep. So at 5 am I gave up and hit 70 west once again. Just over the border into Indiana I stopped for some breakfast. No warning, but when I went up the ramp I saw things were pretty well sectioned off and I thought uh-oh. Getting my breakfast so as to be in a better frame of mind to deal with this inconvenience, I headed back for the highway. No go. Can't get back on here and darned if I could find anything to direct me to I-70, so I just chose a road and started driving. Sometimes I'm a red-head like that, ya know. Went quite a few miles without seeing anything (Indiana can be that way) and finally out of the early morning mist appears a garage, one where they actually work on cars, not one of these 32 pump Super Exxons. So I asked the guys how to get to a road I see on my map that has absolutely no name or number. As luck would have it, it's right close, and I make my left and then another left and I'm on 35 South going back for I-70 (backtracking as it were). Then I think, no, I don't want to do this. I'm SOOOO tired of going 45 or 55 through a zillion construction sites where there's usually not even any equipment MUCH LESS ANYONE AT ALL WORKING. So I made an impulsvie decision and turned onto 38 West which I ended up following nearly all the way across Indiana (at some point I got onto 32 West). That was a great great road and I went about 62 mph all the way across.

Of course I slowed down whenever a little town bumped up, but there weren't many. And I greatly enjoyed the little towns that did pop up from their sleepy policemen to the dogs lifting a leg to pee on a tree to kids shouting in a schoolyard to an old lady coming out of a wooden church door. What I did get to see were all these marvelous farms and people out working the land, corn ready to be harvested, a farmer working down some ground, Victorian houses covered with gingerbread ornamentation, little old wooden churches, vintage tractors, swampland, signs for Fireman's Field Days and Fish Frys, Friends' Meeting Houses, the 3 crosses (one yellow, 2 white, you know what I mean), town halls and old cemeteries, rusting combines and tetters, milk houses and signs for fresh eggs, farm stands with homegrown white corn and fat red tomatoes. I got to see all this for free and I didn't get stuck in a traffic jam south of Indianapolis. I saw no decapitations. Just good clean country and village living.

Go back and read that last paragraph. I could have stayed on the interstate for all those miles. The roads I took (38 and 32) roughly followed I-70, about 5 or less miles north of it. But instead of seeing the backs of tractor trailers and SUVs, instead of seeing exit after unidentifiable exit, seeing signs for McDonald's and BP ad nauseum, I opted for seeing what color houses people live in and how they paint their barns (a lot of white barns and some red ones, too) I got to see that they have Hereford and Black Angus and a lot of beef cattle and not very many dairy cattle, I got to see their Thoroughbred horses and little old chihuahua dogs by the road and tabby cats and dead, flattened red foxes, heat-puffed corpses of raccoon and possum...deserted homesteads and decaying barns. I got to see all that while still driving at 60-65 mph, probably averaging better time than I would have on I-70. And it was good.

Eventually I hopped on I-74, albeit begrudgingly, and continued on into Illinois. I'm here to work so I'll shut up now. Just next time you're not in too much of a hurry do yourself a favor, see if you can still read a map, get off the interstate and take those two-way roads. I'm old enough to remember when they were the only option (besides, of course, one lane roads. It wasn't all that long ago . Get out there and see how America lives...look, listen, and revel!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

God Loves A Rainy Day

What's a wild turkey like you doing in a place like this??

God loves a rainy day, and I do, too. Here on the mountain it has steadily poured since before sunrise. There's a heavy fog hanging over the trees obscuring the nearby peaks. Days like this I wish this house had a tin roof. I'm trying to talk Sis into having one on the addition, but it looks like no go. Rain on a tin roof is a glorious sound. If you've never experienced that, go find one the next time it rains and sit under there awhile on your own. Leave the TV, newspaper, and cell phone alone. Just get comfortable, sit quietly and listen. Let some thoughts come to you, look out at the tree trunks, black with rain, watch the raindrops fall from the eaves to the ground....ah, now there's serenity. With the raging pace of this world we do well to find some peace here and there. And rain on a tin roof helps.

Me? I look out from this nice old oak desk on the 3rd floor over the double row of maples that leads up the hill to the big front porch, and on over at the fog-shrouded wood on a nearby hill. Between me and the hill are many trees and a steady row of giant raindrops coming straight down off the eaves. This is a loud rain, yet it's one of those sounds that adds a feeling of peace and comfort, almost like a soft blanket of sound. Gee, I have macaroni and cheese and stewed tomatoes cooking in my mind...I expect to hear my mom's voice calling up the winding stairs asking if I want some homemade chocolate chip cookies and a big glass of cold milk. That won't happen - she died in 1984 - but it's just one of those feelings this kind of weather brings. It's time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the sudden onset of fall! The leaves here are already beginning to turn. The nights are sharp and just the other night I had both the woodstove and the fireplace cranked up, another of the most comforting things in my world.

Just a few days ago I was gettin ready to go to Lodi for Pickin' in the Pasture and I looked over the porch railing and saw about 14 turkeys sashaying around in the morning rain. I caught my breath and ran for my camera, in a quiet sort of way. I inched toward the flock (?) and marvelled as they seemed to take absolutely no interest in me and went about bobbing their heads as they pecked at worms or whatever lay in the grass. Closer and closer, and still they held their ground. I became bolder and soon was within maybe 12 feet of them. They casually made their way to some "light" woods nearby, past the hemlocks lining the hill and through some lush fern, down a bank and across a field, then over an old drystone wall into my neighbor's yard. I followed them every step, then went down a treacherous bank and up the dirt road to Sis's. Coming across the recently mowed yard, still reveling in the beauty of these wild turkeys, I stepped right into a woodchuck hole. Mind I sprained my ankle more than 2 months ago and it hasn't been right since. The same foot slipped firmly into this hole, which was quite a bit smaller than my foot, and lodged there. I sat down in the sodden grass and had to yank my foot out and it did not feel very nice at all. 'Course this is my clutch foot, and I was already all loaded up for Lodi, so I spent some 160 miles screeching and screaming all the way through the mountains as I repeatedly had to depress the clutch when shifting gears. Next time I have to sprain my ankle I'm gonna sprain the right one.

Never mind, one good thing: I didn't stay up all night at the festival going around to the jam sessions. No, I hobbled back to my truck as my friends tossed affectionate nicknames such as "Gimp" my way, and went to bed right after the show was over. Most sleep I've ever had at a festival! Anyway, it was a great joy to follow a bunch of turkeys through the rainy woods.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Back to Lodi...Grascals, 1946, Paisley and Stuff

Terry Eldredge (Dave Talbot in the background)

It was another good year at Lodi, NY for Pickin' in the Pasture, one of the best little traditional bluegrass festivals around. From the moment I arrived I sensed the friendly camaraderie of the staff and the way all the performers felt at ease on this working sheep farm. Maybe it's because the festival is held at Andy, Susan & Jesse's house, with performers eating meals at their dining room table, using their bathroom, and well, just making themselves to home. One of the first things I glimpsed as I eased my truck into a spot was an open wagon with a team of horses driven by an Amish man and his two boys. The wagon was loaded with frest fruit and vegetables and homemade breads, cakes and cookies...and it was headed for the festival grounds. I became a happy customer and bit into the best corn and tomatoes of the season. Saturday morning was a sheep shearing demonstration that was very well attended. It's not every day most city slickers get to see a sheep shorn.

The incredible lead singing of Terry Eldredge is something well-known to any bluegrass fan worth his salt, and I think Terry and the amazing Grascals are about to become known to a whole lot more folks around the world. Tomorrow they officially release their 2nd project, "Long List of Heartaches," and it's bound to be rocketing toward the stratosphere just any minute now. I was one of the lucky ones: I got my advance copy at Pickin' in the Pasture. It hasn't left the CD player yet. In case you don't know about the Grascals, you need to. They've got it all. Terry Eldredge has long been one of my very favorite singers (especially on country songs); nobody sings those sad honky tonk songs better than Terry. Jamie Johnson is also an excellent high lead and tenor singer and Dave Talbot rounds out their quartet with his steady baritone. In Terry Smith and Jamie Johnson they have two great songwriters, and all the boys can pick with the best of them (and have!) They're good-looking and they're savvy as well. The boys had the smarts to autograph all their new CDs before selling them, thus saving a lot of confusion and extra hubbub around their record table after their sets. As it was the line was about 10 deep all the way around, but a lot of folks came away from the table with a great new recording and big grins across their faces. I like it that the Grascals are still selling their CDs for $15.

After listening to this project a few times I decided I'd try to pick my favorite song and realized that I simply couldn't. There are so many great songs on here and the talents of all the Grascals shine through all 13 songs, from Candy Randolph's "Home" through Steve Wariner/Harley Allen's "Hoedown in Motown." There are a few songs most country/bluegrass fans will know and a few great new songs. I particularly like Harley Allen's "Being Me" (does Harley ever write a poor song?) partly because of Dierks Bentley's rich baritone vocal and okay, my favorite cut is "Don't Tell Mama." It's plum pitiful and it doesn't get any better than the incomparable lead vocals of Terry Eldredge on a sad country song coupled with a recitation by his hero, George Jones. Get ready! Jamie Johnson, Dave Talbot and Terry Smith all contribute their own brilliant vocal touches to this must-have CD. I love it, buy it!

Mickey Boles and David Peterson sing like brothers. It's flat magical, and their sets at Pickin' in the Pasture were riveting. Though they each have very animated faces (a photographer's dream) more importantly they have expressive voices (not quite as obvious in this photo). Check these boys out. It didn't hurt their sound a bit to have banjo whiz Charlie Cushman driving the five and Mike Bub rounding out that big bass boom. Had a nice chat with each of the boys and have been listening to their latest CD, "In the Mountaintops to Roam," for the last two days (alternating it with the Grascals). Fine, fine. You can't beat their harmony -- and Mike Compton, the world's best mandolin player, plays on 13 of the 14 cuts. I know lots of folks don't like it when Nashville's finest do the studio session and then you hear someone else at shows out on the road. But I gotta tell you that this is one fine CD with 1946 regulars Charlie Cushman on banjo, Boles singing tenor and former bassman Kent Blanton laying the groundwork and a wealth of the finest Nashville fiddlers: Casey Driessen, Michael Cleveland, Aubrey Haynie, Buddy Spicher, and Stuart Duncan swapping turns on the devil's box. Good ole Rob Ickes adds his brilliant dobro touch and my favorite bass singer in the world, Shelton Feazell, underlines the low notes on "Prayin' Shoes." I just love the way Compton picks that "Red Rockin' Chair." And David Peterson is becoming one fine songwriter. But anyway, I didn't miss all those great Nashville pickers who were on the CD but not on the road with Peterson - because those vocals are SO good and they're so interesting to watch and well, it's just a _great_ show.

I remember when I first heard Dave many years ago on Christmas day up at Terry Eldredge's mom and dad's. They used to open their home to all of us Nashville orphans who were away from home on Christmas and didn't we eat! Mary and Bud are both great cooks - and used to cooking for masses of people - and we had some of the finest eating, laughing, and picking on those Christmas Days at the Eldredge's. Dave came there that first time and I remember my jaw dropping to the ground when he started singing Stanley Brothers songs one after another. He had one of the finest voices I've ever heard in that vein, and you know I still firmly believe that. Peterson is a singer to be reckoned with! Pair him up with Mickey Boles and you have a duet that is wonderful to listen to and brilliant to watch!

I could rave on but I need to talk about some other things, so suffice it to say that this 1946 CD is going to enjoy a regular spot in the rotation on my 900-mile drive to Illinois. I have thousands of CDs. 'Nuff said. The Grascals will be about wore out, too, before September.

The Paisleys, Lundys and Eldreth as usual did not disappoint. I was treated to four fine sets of in-your-bloody-face bluegrass, thank you. Hard hitting soul music. If I remember correctly the Paisley bunch have the distinction of playing at all 9 Pickin' in the Pastures, and I understand they've been invited back next year. Since I half broke my left ankle in a woodchuck hole on Friday morning I wasn't able to get out and about and drag my knuckles through the campground in the wee hours of Saturday morning, but I understand the Paisley bunch and Andy Alexander and a few others had a right good time out there till the sun was thinking about making another appearance.

Better put the wrap on this rambling and get my bags packed for the next trip. Haven't decided whether to head to Thomas Point Beach - or to Illinois. I'll end up somewhere.