USA 2013 - 33 days - 36,766km - 127 bands
Flew out of Brisbane at 11am heading to LAX and then Nashville - full flight so no room to lay down but the Virgin seats are pretty comfy with good leg room. 13 hours later touched down in LAX with a few hours to layover before heading to Nashville - we arrived in Nashville about 10pm pretty much exhausted and slept till midday the next day.
Thursday 29th August… and so it begins - head on down to a venue called The High Watt, part of a large complex of 3 band venues (we'll be hangin out quite a bit here in a few weeks time) 3 great bands on tonite as a warm up for the Muddy Roots Festival were we are going tomorrow. We chat to Sean Wheeler from one of bands who remembers us from a few years ago when we hung out a bit at a festival in Las Vegas - he dedicates a song to us which was pretty cool - the other bands are great too - really wild punk/bluegrass music - a great preview of whats to come.
Friday we pick up our Jeep Cherokee rental car and drive about 2 hours west of Nashville to Cookville TN and check into our hotel - we have to catch the shuttle bus to the festival ground (which we find out is actually 30 minutes drive away) but the shuttles run 10am, noon and then 11pm and 1am - so we have missed it - the manager of the hotel knows the guy that's putting the show on so phones him and we get driven to the festival by his brother who is towing a whole lot of equipment for the stage.
The festival is being held at a bikers ranch amongst beautiful rolling hill way out in the sticks - there are heaps of tents and RV's all around and 3 stages for the bands. This shit is the real deal !! ....Tattooed hillbillys everywhere drinking home made moonshine from jam jars - everyone is SO friendly and we soon get into the swing of things with $2 beers and plenty of free moonshine (everyone rekons theirs is the best … so we have to try a few!) Jason (the promoter) really knows how to organise a festival - plenty of great food, cheap beer, plenty of shade tents and portaloos mean we didn't have to queue for anything.
We meet a sweet young redhead who wants us to adopt her, as her parents are younger than we are, and "just don't get this kind of music"
We meet lots of cool people and hang out swapping stores of past travel adventures. the next 3 days are pretty full on getting home about 2am sleeping till 9am - going down & having breakfast then another quick nap before heading to the festival at noon - all the bands are amazing - such a diversity of styles from really soft folky stuff, to traditional bluegrass, country, wild hillbilly rock & roll and a little garage punk rock thrown in for good measure. Just sitting in the shade with a beer and watching the constant flow of freaky looking people was great - it's funny, the meanest, wildest looking dudes are usually really friendly once you break the ice. We had some really funny times in the shuttle too - often the bands were on board and there were a couple of bands we really like that we got to chat too as well (e.g. Deadbolt and The Monsters)
Leaving Cookville on Monday we head back to Nashville to catch a show by The Oblivians (another of our favourites) at the Exit Inn (a famous Nashville venue) & Tuesday head a few hours south to Chatanooga for a few days - it's a great town with lots of good restaurants and bars & we catch a show by Jason & the Punknecks who we have wanted to see for ages - we hang out with them & a few other people later that nite & have a ball - during the day we visit Ruby Falls - you catch an elevator 1200 ft down inside a mountain then walk about 15 minutes thru amazingly beautiful caves till you reach the underground waterfall which is 145ft tall - pretty amazing !!
We drive back to Nashville and fly up to Chicago - we area staying in a nice B&B in the Wicker Park area which is a little out of the city but really nice. We stayed here because we are going to a "block party" at a famous venue called "The Hideout" - the block party turns out to be the venue taking over the whole street and a huge parking lot opposite with a great stage and more port-a-loo's per person than anything i have ever seen! the block party goes 2 nites and has great artists like Mavis Staples, Neko Case, John Langford and many more who all do great sets.
On Friday we go to visit our friend Andre Williams (in our opinion just about the coolest man on the planet) Andre's musical history is astounding - from his days with Motown till recent recording with some of modern rock musics greatest. We catch a cab to the South Side of Chicago and go to Andre's apartment - he thought we had a car but we didn't so he says "our car is in the shop so let's get the bus - i want to take you guys to my favourite soul food restaurant" so we head off with Andre and his wife Darlene to get the bus. Now this is the south side of Chicago and pretty much a black neighbourhood and Andre keeps telling us we are right on the edge of the ghetto but not to worry because we are with him - we sure get some funny looks but once they see Andre it's smiles all-round.
We get the bus to Roy's Soul Food and are greeted by Roy himself - a huge chunk of a man and when you see the servings he gives you can understand why he is so big - after a huge plate of baked chicken, mac & cheese, grits, collard greens, candied yams and corn bread Andre says there is someone he wants us to meet. He makes a quick call and we walk around the corner to this old house - on the verandah are about 10 people all reminiscing about the "old days" - Andre introduces us to Jimmy Mayes (Jimmi was Jimi Hendrix's original drummer and has played with the likes of James Brown, BB King, Pinetop Perkins and many others) Jimmi Mayes brother Chet had died 3 days earlier and all the people on the verandah were family & friends there for the funeral the next day. Jimmi say he wants to take us to see Chets artwork to see if we can make any suggestion of what to do with it as they have to move it out of the building - as we drive around in Jimmies car with Andre and his wife Jimmi says "have a listen to this" - he puts on a cassette tape of an early recording from the 60's of Jimi Hendrix and him playing and it has been over dubbed with some young black guy sings the vocals - the whole thing is so surreal!!!
We pull up in front of "Finessen Chet of La Tee's Hair Salon & Fashion Boutique" - Jimmi unlocks the grate and we walk inside so see a super funky old hair saloon a few racks of 2nd clothing and a ton of art - it seems when Chet wasn't "finessen" hair he was drawing or making mosaics out of mirrors - the stuff is pretty rustic but amazing all the same - Jimmy asks what I think he can do with it all - I have a thought - the B&B we are staying at has heaps of cool original art so I will ask the B&B owners what they think - I take a stack of photos and the next morning get a few ideas and send off some emails to a few galleries & cultural centres. I get an excited message back from the Chicago Institute of Intuitive & Outsider Art & last i heard from Jimmi just before we left the US is that they came and photographed all the artworks at the salon and something will defineletey be happening with it - so we are pretty chuffed to be able to help out.
We spend another day exploring downtown Chicago's attractions including the "Bean" and the art gallery - and an amazing dish I had been looking forward to since seeing it on a travel/food show …. chorizo stuffed medjool dates with bacon and piquillo-pepper tomato sauce washed down with a spicy bloody mary - if you ever get to Chicago make sure you get to AVEC !
We get an early flight on Monday to Portland Oregon - home of 350 micro breweries and some amazing food (am i starting to repeat myself a little about food?) - we spend the rest of the day walking around town and on Tuesday morning we pick up our rental car and drive out to Mount Hood via 40 km's of amazing waterfalls & spend the nite right on the water at Hood River - next day we drive back to Portland around Mt Hood itself - at 17,000ft it's a pretty spectacular drive. We also manage to catch a few shows the next 2 nites - a cruisy nite with Jason Isbell at a sit down theatre type show and a wild nite of rock with the Cosmic Psychos (who were touring the US and who we will be seeing in Memphis toward the end of your trip). Fun times with those guys - talk about funny bastards !!
Friday 13th and we board the train to take us 3 hours north to Seattle - our friend Meghan picks us up from the station and whizzes us about town pointing out lots of cool stuff - we are staying with Meghan & Dan and Ike the wonder dog (soo cute!!) Meghan is the queen of yard sales and she runs a great blog at http://www.yardsalebloodbath.com so of course we go out with her and her friend Jenny for a scrounge around - saw some cool stuff but most of it too big to lug about.
Dan & Meghan coach the Rat City Rollergirls - probably the biggest and best roller derby team in the US who get 6000-7000 people at some of their games - the season finished a few weeks ago but Dan has arranged a training session to coincide with our visit - man can these girls skate!! After watching 2 hours of non stop training we head out to breakfast with a few of the girls - they have great "derby names" like Kamikaze Kim, Punk’N Pie, Julie AnnBruise, Slamburger Patty etc
Sunday we head out with Meghan & "adventure Dan" in the Kombi and head a couple of hours north on a really amazing scenic drive over some of the islands in Puget Sound - deserted beaches, sea lions, huge gorges and just beautiful scenery. Sadly, next day we have to leave our friends and fly back to Nashville for the Americana Music Fest.
We meet a really nice girl on the plane and had lunch with her once we get to Nashville due to our busy music schedule we didn't get much of a chance to hang out again… next time ! The Americana Festival is held over 4 days & nites with about 150 acts playing in 5 different venues around town so we have to schedule our nites (and days) carefully to make sure we see the stuff we really want to see - as usual with these types of small festivals it's often the stuff you've never heard of that really impresses - I could write a list but you'd be better off looking at some of the videos on our youtube channel. Nashville is famous for it's country music but there are a lot of alternate scenes there and a lot of people are really accepting of different genre's. Lots of music history all around you in venues, shops & restaurants (can I just add here that Nashville has some great gourmet food too) We finish the Festival at 1am Saturday with one of our favourite bands, American Aquarium (we have managed to see these guys pretty much every trip to the US).
Sunday morning we fly to the best place on the planet - New Orleans - we've only got 3 days but as we've been there a few times before we make the most of our time with visits to out favourite music venues and eateries - man that place knows how to party - we catch up with some friends from LA who are big drinkers and party animals so we are in great company for the 11am bloody mary's etc etc - we get to see Larry & Flask again (one of out favourites from Muddy Roots) and we have some of the best oysters we've ever had.
Wednesday morning we head to the station to catch the train up to Memphis for Gonerfest - this is the 10th year of this small but intense garage punk festival which we've been to a couple of times before. Goner Records is a label/store located in Memphis with a strong Aussie connection via Memphis local & a friend of ours, Bruce Saltmash, we met Bruce when he toured Australia with one of his bands - Bruce and I have a tradition of swapping t-shirts each time we meet - they seem to get better each time (see pic below for this years cultural t-shirt exchange)
Gonerfest is pretty much a 4 day party with a small but devoted crowd - you can pretty much talk to anyone and you'll have some story, friend, show or event in common - it's such fun meeting people from all over the world who just happen to know someone you know. So many "man it's a small world" moments. As usual most of the bands are awesome but there are always a few that you might not be into so it's great to just go outside and socialise. We get to catch up with friends we have met at previous Gonerfest's and swap stores of our musical adventures since we last met. Friday arvo see's a show in the carpark of a venue called The Buccaneer - you pay $5 for a plastic cup and you can re-fill it with beer as often as you like - by 6pm the crowd is pretty shitfaced and having a ball - then it's back to the hotel for a change of clothes - a quick bite to eat then out for that nights bands. Our friends from LA are there as well and we go see them play a house party across town on saturday - they pretty much blow the roof off the joint!
After 4 full on days of drinking, dancing & partying it's time for a breather before we head home - we head to Memphis airport for a flight to LA for a few days R&R (thats rest and recreation - not rock & rolling) the flight is via Atlanta - we check in and wait only to be told the plane has mechanical problems and that we won't be going anywhere today - so after hours of waiting around while the (very patient) passengers work with the (very patient) staff to work out the best alternative arrangements for the next days flights we head to the hotel the airline has for us - it's close to the airport and under serious renovation - there seems like there is only about 10 people staying a hotel for 600 - quite spooky - there are no shops or restaurants anywhere nearby so we opt for an Elvis themed restaurant that has a free limo pickup - so this pink stretch limo pulls up and takes us to the restaurant which is just around the corner from Graceland - it's not something we would normally have done but we make a fun nite of it anyway.
Next morning the plane is all good and we get to LA about 4.30pm on Monday … just in time for peak hour LA traffic - holy shit never seen so many cars!! We opt to pay the extra $50 to upgrade to a brand new, V8 Mustang convertible - I now know why US cars have such big engines - you really need to get some speed up quickly to get onto the freeways - 6 lanes both ways - but peak hour is pretty much stop/start all the way and we get 100 miles up the coast to Santa Barbara about 8pm - it's really pretty up there with lots of Spanish influenced architecture and nice coastline - the sand on the beaches is dark and the water is bloody cold but some of the surf breaks have great potential (there wasn't much swell and as the water was cold I decided to wait till I got home to have a surf)
We spent a couple of days sightseeing and driving around the area and then head back to LA for our last day before flying out late that nite. We hang around Santa Monica Pier and visit the freak show that is Venice Beach - a few drinks at the space bar at LAX then our flight home - pick up the car in Brisbane and drive 2 hours home. So in total 33 days - 36,766km - 127 bands …. can't wait to do to again !!