TOUR BLOG – T Model Ford & GravelRoad May/June 2011 tour. Part 2.June 7, 2011
TOUR BLOG – T Model Ford & GravelRoad May/June 2011 tour. Part 2.
NOTE: This blog is dedicated to one-stop on the tour: Bayport BBQ in Bayport, MN.
Sunday May 29, 2011. We leave Lincoln, NE relatively early in the morning to drive 400 miles to Bayport, MN, a small town outside of Minneapolis that really is its own town but is probably considered a Twin CIties suburb at this point in the era of modern sprawl. The town is a small community that probably thrives off the Anderson WIndows factory in town and some other assorted small businesses associated with the St. Croix river that runs by the borough.
We are going to the Bayport BBQ for a relatively early evening of music. The show is our first at the BBQ but we are very familiar with the parties involved in tonight’s event. Chris Johnson opened the barbecue almost a year ago. This is his new venture after pouring his heart and soul into the Deep Blues Festival for the last few years. While Deep Blues would be considered an unabashed musical success, it was far from that financially. Now the festival is shifting to Cleveland (July 14 @ the Beachland Ballroom) and is completely artist driven – - yes, the artists enjoyed it that much. Chris is letting the artists use the name but he’s taking a back seat in the management of the event. I think if he’d have kept going without seeing a stronger return on his efforts, it may have killed him. The barbecue gives him a new opportunity and it surprises me none to see his adolescent son, dressed in the official white jacket of the barbecue staff, greet us when we arrive on site. This is a family endeavor. Chris still gets the music he enjoys and he gets more time with family than in years past. It’s a natural progression. I’m sure the 14 – 16 hour days aren’t making him any younger, but he seems truly happy about getting into the kitchen around 7am everyday to make the (amazing!) homemade bread that they serve up starting at 11am and going ’til after the last dinner customers leave in the evening. Talking to his wife about the barbecue joint later during our visit, I get the sense that everyone is pretty exhausted with the amount of work it takes to start up a small family business, but it’s undeniable that because it’s a family business, it makes it a little bit easier on everyone.
The Bayport BBQ is about two store fronts off the main drag through town. It’s a beautiful spot that reminds me of what many people associate “small town Main St. America” from years past. This is not a juke joint in the hills. There’s no strip malls, or malls of any sort, around town. We’re tucked among the brick fronted stores and shops of the neighborhood – the library is across the street, a bike shop (open less than 25 hours a week!) is next store and there’s a local auto mechanic across the street and next to the library. This is the way it used to be for most towns in this country, everything is right in town, no reason to get in the car and go far. What’s more, this is not a music venue in the traditional sense, as there is no stage and we just move some tables and set up in the restaurant area. It all feels pretty “down home.” I know T Model feels comfortable.
We get there about 6pm, load in and get set up as we start to catch up with old friends and begin to make new ones. It’s great to be back in the Twin Cities region. Friends will drive from the city (about 40 minutes away) and from even further to come see us. Locals learn about T Model via word of mouth. The BBQ joint will be overflowing by the time the music begins just after 8pm. Thankfully, it’s a beautiful night and people are able to stand in the outdoor area that extends off the main room and next to the kitchen. If we’d have played here 2 months ago there’s almost no way the weather would have allowed this, but it’s Memorial Day weekend and the locals seem genuinely glad that winter’s completed its long course and the sun and warmth are finally upon them.
GravelRoad plays a short set, about 30 minutes and it’s feeling good in there. T’s sitting only a few feet away so it doesn’t long to make the transition between sets and we play a very “front porch”-like set. With no stage as a barrier, everybody’s tucked in close and most people are seated. We’re all seated at our instruments – you can’t expect a 90 year old with a bad hip to stand and play – and the patterns up front are all at tables. Folks line the back walls and outer areas near the back patio. I can tell that T loves it. I really think he prefers playing these intimate sorts of venues. He likes to look people in the eyes – sometimes for a very long time as I’ve had some people, mostly women, tell me.
I can tell T is a little tired when we start, but he’s obviously happy. He plays the first few songs a little slow and he begins to repeat himself early in the set. Stefan and I take this as our cue to prompt him for songs in his set list. We call out names, Stefan will even help with an opening riff when you can see T Model have a “senior moment” and forget how the song gets started (I know his look: he tilts his head up, usually to his right, and his eyes go up to the skies, almost as if he is seeking some sort of intervention, divine or otherwise, to assist his hands with getting a song going). I hinted in my previous blog that his set was more varied than the previous shows on this tour. Our proximity to each other seems to help (he can hear us calling out songs) as well as his comfort with the crowd and the venue. He seems to take more risks, he’s willing to try songs that he’s been less-comfortable with since his stroke in April 2010. Songs like “Cut You Loose” and “Nobody Gets Me Down” have been harder for him since his right hand doesn’t have the strength or loose dexterity needed to do all of what he wants to do on the guitar on those tracks, but he tries them on this night.
The crowd is very kind and receptive. Some people are dancing but I get the sense that since it’s so packed in here tonight, not many people want to disturb the vibe for the rest of those in attendance by tearing it up on the dance floor. It almost seems more like people are in polite reverence and enjoyment of the music. That works for us.
Songs like “Sail On” and “My Babe” sound really to me from behind the kit. “Mean Ol’ Frisco” continues to be a highlight of each and every show on tour. There’s a bunch of other stong songs, but I’m really most enjoying the feel of the entire evening – great people having fun times, amazing barbecue, and Mississippi Hill Country music (as our friend Ryan Mifflin described it from the other night in St Louis: “Hill Country Therapy”).
The neighborhood is small, so we’re trying to keep aware of a 10pm curfew. But the audience is begging (I hate using that term, but I don’t know how else to put it) for a couple of more. Yes it’s a Sunday night, but it is a major-holiday weekend so we go about 15 minutes past curfew and later find out that’s there no complaints from the locals.
I do have a good laugh when I think about places with curfews and what may happen when we go over if the cops come by: can you picture it, they arrive and see a 90 year-old man grinning and playing his guitar … what are they going to do, cuff and haul him off ….
We keep hanging out for as long as we can, catching up with friends. A bunch of photos are being taken and people don’t seem to want to leave. We let them know that tomorrow is an “off day” for us and we’re choosing to hang around Bayport. Chris has alerted us that we are welcome to spend the whole next day at the BBQ. T can play if he wants – which, of course, he wants to do. We agree to have some music in the afternoon (there’s another band scheduled for tomorrow at 1pm, so we’ll play it all by ear … more on that below).
What’s more, Chris has invited to join the Bayport Memorial Day parade the next morning. We will be in the Bayport BBQ “float” (consisting of his truck and some signs … this isn’t a Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans) the next morning. Parade starts at 8:30 am and we have to be there at 8a. We’re staying about 20 minutes from Bayport, so it’s going to be an early morning – not easy for a band of musicians that have been keeping very late hours – but we’ve all agreed to give it a shot. No promises – again, it’s T’s call … if he’s not up in the morning, no one’s going to wake disturb his sleep in these twilight years of his life … but we’ll give it a go.
Monday May 30, 2011.
Two of us set our alarms for about 7am. None of us plan on showering or doing any serious prep if this is going to happen. If we’re going to be the musicians in the Memorial Day Parade in Bayport, we’re going to come as ourselves. No sense in spending much time, if any primping.
Amazingly, everybody gets up. T’s probably the first one up, before the alarms go off. I wake up about 5 minutes before mine goes off and I hear T rustling a room away. This is going to happen.
We grab coffees and a snack and we’re on our way. We cut through the closed streets and make it up to Chris’ truck. He’s beaming. I don’t think he thought we’d make it. Again, no promises, but it’s T Model Ford and if you invite him somewhere, he’ll usually come. That’s just the kind of guy he is.
We’ve brought along T’s wheelchair on this tour. We haven’t needed it, but it’s good to have with us and we have the room to transport it with us. We put T in the chair with the intention of lifting him up in the van and using tie downs to secure him in the back of the bed of Chris’ truck. With the help of about 5 or 6 healthy bodies, we hoist T up into the truck bed, we fasten the straps in and Stefan and flank either side of the chair in the back of the bed. As we wait for the parade to start, I ask T if he’s ever done anything like this before. He says “Naw,” but I can hear in his voice some excitement. We talk a bit about what it is and the traditions of parades. Come to find out that T’s never even seen a parade, let alone been in one. This is special. I think that the small-town feel makes it even more special. T’s down home and this is definitely a down home event.
The fire trucks get it started. There’s a local marching band. The military is represented. There’s a few local businesses involved. We have a big jeep in front of us and local school kids lined up behind us. We roll through town and T Model almost immediately shouts out: “It’s Jack Daniels Time!” 8:30 in the morning. Memorial Day. Bayport MN. Jack Daniel Time.
The parade is an event I’ll never forget. We roll through the mile or mile and a half route about 5 mph or less and the streets are lined with people. There’s fun groups smiling and waving at us and we’re quick to extend the same greetings back. T starts to engage with specific individuals. He’s saying Hi to children. He’s flirting with ladies. He even points and hollers to one woman, hunched over with a flat expression and a mug of coffee between her hands, “You look like you had a rough night,” laughing. He’s having a blast!
Locals who attended the show the night before yell to him “It’s Jack Daniels Time.” He’s throwing out one-liners like “Hey Big Bootie” or “Hey There Bay-bee” randomly. It’s a trip.
Perhaps my favorite moment is when we turn the corner and I realize we are passing the nursing home in Bayport. We see attendants standing besides a number of seniors in wheelchairs and lawn furniture. There’s probably 40 people associated with the nursing home lining the road. We’re stopped for awhile and T’s just chatting up people. Now, I haven’t lived in a nursing home, but I know that they can be pretty rough places to spend all of your time. It’s like death-in-waiting. Not fun. But here you have a nonagenarian in a wheelchair on the back of a truck with “Bayport BBQ” emblazoned on the side waving and talking and flirting. I’m guessing this is not a common scene for the residents. Some are tickled to see us, some look at us like we are from another planet – which we kind of are.
The parade runs its course and I ask T what he thought. He’s all smiles. The day has just begun.
We have a few hours before people will be coming to the BBQ to hang out with us in the afternoon.
Around 1pm, another band is scheduled to play. They’re called the Broad Street Misdemeanors. Never heard of them. I’m guessing that T will see them – any other musicians for that matter – and want to play. This will be the case.
The Broad Street Misdemeanors look rather out of place in Bayport. Tattoos on faces don’t seem to be too common here. I talk to the two men who make up the band. Stumps the Clown and Duct Tape Joe. Joe seems nice enough. His facial tats seem artistic. Stumps immediately admits he’s a drunk and spend the next 4+ hours proving it. His personality deteriorates with every drink. Their music isn’t bad, but I really can’t tell, because T Model takes their show from them. They invite him up to sing one of their songs (?!?!?) and he just does his thing. For a long time. They don’t seem to care … perhaps about anything. I’ve seen this thing way too many times before. I find Carrie, the woman traveling with them, to be more interesting than the band. Such is life.
T Model plays for a rather long time during the afternoon. He takes a break when his amp acts up and the Misdemeanors come back for a spell before Stefan and I join T for a short set. A 14 month old child is in attendance. He’s checking us out. Eventually, he comes over to the drums. I give him sticks and lower the floor tom so he can play along. He does just that for the better part of a half-hour. His mom has to peal him away, crying. I love it. The photos are proof. Today’s all about a fun set … the names of the songs don’t really matter, it’s just about the soul of the experience.
Chris Johnson and friends close up shop early. We’re out around 6pm and head back to the Johnson’s for R&R. This family is the real deal. We eat more BBQ for dinner. I don’t want the time here to end, but we have to make our way down the road in the morning. Our Memorable Memorial Day weekend has come to a close.
Next stop: Chicago.
- M Reinsel