GRAVELROAD News High Highs and Low Lows: Stories from the road.

High Highs and Low Lows: Stories from the road.

I don’t know the meaning of life.  No one does.  Those that claim to know it are more lost than those of us who blissfully reside in not-knowing.

In the course of one week – from Tuesday October 14 through Tuesday October 21 – I witnessed human suffering and great joy in places as disparate as a windowless room in Seattle Washington, a musical chapel in Clarksdale Mississippi, and an accident-filled highway outside Denver Colorado.

On morning of Tuesday October 14, I was on the phone with a bunch of medical professionals and crisis-response planners determining how best to manage the psychological traumas asociated with inevitable catastrophes in the Seattle-area.  Whether it be an earthquake, volcano, or man-made disaster, I’m part of a group of people tasked with preparing the “systems” of first- and second-responders to a major horrific event in my home area of Seattle Washington.

Thankfully, there’s already a model in place so we need not start from the ground up.  I’m honored to be a part of this group.  Needless to say, however, it’s not the most uplifting planning team. The others involved are friendly enough.  It’s just oddly peaceful to be involved in planning for the response to a major, life-altering calamity. It’s also inspiring.

That night I held my daughter and enjoyed some quiet. It was equally inspiring.

The next day, Wednesday October 15, I boarded a flight to Nashville.  We’d fly into Nashville and pick up the van that we’d left behind after the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville TN a few weeks earlier.  It’s cheaper and easier than driving back and forth the 3000 land-miles to Seattle.

Thursday October 16 we hung around Nashville with friends. I’d have liked more time with Ray Cashman and his guests from Paris, Telefarik. We’d meet up again in Clarksdale, but the busyness of the festival could make it hard to have a meaningful connection.

Our focus was firmly on our show at Logue’s Black Raven Emporium, a weird old multi-level entertainment center. We played in the basement corner den that had once been a small independent cinema and whose only remnants were the two rows of 60’s era wooden hardbacked seats, perfectly aligned with the perimeter of the room.

The literary event ahead of our show ran late.  JB Beverly’s standup bassplayer ran later.  We went on first, with me quickly getting into a verbal match with a local.  She won.  But I got a few in on her.  It was a feisty, albeit small crowd for a Thursday night in East Nashville.  I loved this show.  JB Beverly and his array of musical all-star guests were skilled and spontaneous for a lengthy set.  They coulda played all night for my tastes.

The next day, Friday the 17th, we took off from Nashville.  We stopped at the Confederate Civil War Cemetery near Franklin Tennessee on our way out of town for a dose of perspective and history.  In the cemetery parking lot, we ran into some Australians trying to get to Memphis and then Clarksdale.  Follow us.

We roll into Clarksdale thru 161. We get off MLK at Issaquena and turn down the alley behind the brick rear entrance of the New Roxy theater. We’re about 90 minutes ahead of our showtime.  We took it slow.

I enter through the backdoor and see John and Nick onstage as James Leg.  I try to sneak through the side off stage right area and I immediately see Scott Biram. A bunch of other friends from other states and other countries litter the audience as the big hall rocks.  The sun is setting and the night will be gorgeous.

Our show is over before I know it.  Our 50 minute sets blow by now.  It’s a mix of old and new and I feel very comfortable except for a collapsing hi hat and throne.  The throne problem is on me but I fixed it asap and it barely registered a hiccup.  The hi hat was just the hardware breaking and I had no back up for this gig so I’m screwed the whole set.

We will now bounce around Clarksdale, going from downtown to the area out to Hopson’s Plantation 3 miles out on 49 to the Juke Joint Chapel the rest of the night.

After a late night of music, friends and revelry we got up relatively early on the morning of Saturday October 18th to make the 75+ minute drive to Greenville, MIssissippi and the gravesite of our departed friend and musical associate James “T-Model” Ford.  This would be our first trip to see his grave since his death 15 months before.  The sun was shining and it was a warm fall day, about as inviting as it can be for such a morose but necessary activity.

We picked up our friend Alex Hebert before we left Clarksdale.  He was staying with Reverend Deadeye but the Rev opted against going. Alex and T had connected over the road back in 2009-10.  Al joined me and T as Tour Manager for a month in Europe in the fall of ’09. A month on the road is hard enough.  Doing it rock-n-roll style with a 90 year old man is another thing. Get in the van Al, we want you with us to visit the gravesite.

We talked as Stefan drove us down Highway 61 onto 82 and into Greenville.  We wandered around the wrong cemetery for over an hour until finally, through the magic of cellular technology, Chris Johnson helped us get to the correct cemetery where we easily found T’s grave.

Some dying flowers shared space with an unopen bottle of Jack Daniels on his gravestone.  An unopened bottle of Jack wouldn’t last long in Greenville, even on a grave, and T wouldn’t want a perfectly good bottle of Jack to go to waste. We had a little ceremony in memory of T and we each took a sip. It was an incredibly peaceful and serene moment.  It was the most comfortable I’ve ever been in a cemetery.  It’s odd to me that I felt at home there in that moment.  One never knows where grace and beauty will rear themselves in this life.

We had to make haste getting back to Clarksdale for a late-afternoon performance in the Juke Joint Chapel out at Hopson’s Plantation.  Everything else about this trip was entering the “bonus” stage.  I’d already felt a sense of meaning in a variety of ways.  The next 12 hours would bring such an amazing array of joy.


We played a fun and tight set – not too tight, gotta keep it loose enough – and had the opportunity to connect with more people.  We’d see friends play and get to just relax with our pals and the collective posse of like-minded people.  We’d have a couple of serious conversations about life and death, battling demons seen and unseen, and how best to live with wonder in a world that seems intent on challenging us at seemingly every turn.  It was a busy evening.

Specifically, I’d like to acknowledge seeing old friends like US Justin and seeing Stud keep getting bigger and badder, especially as drummer for Lightnin’ Malcolm.  Good times, good times!

A massive group trip into the hills for sunrise fizzled out but that allowed us to get a few hours sleep before hitting the road west for 600 miles to Wichita, KS on Sunday the 19th.  Wichita was great for the 15 hours we were there.  We surely roused the neighbors late on the SUnday evening from the front porch of Dustin & Michelle Arbuckle’s home.  Aaron Moreland had us rolling with stories, fears, and dreams.  I made two trips to the Wichita airport in the morning of the 20th for completely unrelated events (that’s another story) before heading 500 miles further west to Denver.

Our drive to Denver was uneventful until as nighttime fell we approached from the east.  As we finally neared the traffic around their airport – after 8-9 hours of empty highways and smooth sailing – the road was littered with cars.  Literally there were cars collected on the left and right sides of this 5 lane highway.  Apparently one accident led to many more as north-south highways converged with the major east-west arteries.  Joe was driving and it was a nerve-wracking mess.  2000 miles of relative easy driving made awful as impatient people darted in and out of lanes. There were 3 1/2 accident sites in a 3 mile stretch.  (I say one was “a half” because there was nowhere for the collided cars to safely pull off, so they just drove their damaged vehicles with the blinkers on until they could pull off safely.  It was a Twilight Zone for us.

Once we arrive in town, Denver involved a variety of activities highlighted by a great night out with another ol’ dear friend, Nick Sullivan.  We stayed out too late and I had the good fortune to sleep next to a drum kit for a couple of hours before going to Denver International Airport for a flight home to Seattle.  Joe would drive the van back home the last thousand miles after hanging out with some family in Denver. I had to get back for a two-day crisis-intervention training at an involuntary psychiatric hospital in Seattle the next day.

I’d be teaching people how to empathetically care for some individuals diagnosed with a mental disorder who have behaviors determined to be of imminent danger. Not an easy group. This last week inspired me – – again.  I love music for this.  I love my friends and the relationships I have that help feed this in me.  It helps where I’m being manually or mechanically restrained a couple of days after being on the road.  Such is life. – MR

Video of our Juke Joint Chapel set – October 18, 2014 – Clarksdale, MS: