Every year I looked forward to the rapid descent over Rabbit Ears Pass into the Valley of Good Things to come. I’ve come to realize now that the MusicFest is so much fun that it is almost impossible to remember all the good times I’ve had there. Luckily, there’s always someone to remind me of my Steamboat highlights. If I actually did half the things I heard I did, I definitely had fun, but I guess you, nor me, will ever fully know.
The MusicFest was the start of an adventure that I will remember forever. Leave Texas and drive to Colorado, enjoy a week of intoxication, music, skiing, hot tubs, late-night jams, sunrise, hangovers, intoxication, and more music, in that order, then drive back to Texas and return to the same bars and nightclubs. This year was different. I had no intention of returning to anywhere. And with Matt Smith (drummer) feeling the same way, we flipped a coin. Heads California, tails New York City. Heads. Here we come California.
Jan. 10 2005
I go downstairs to start “Blue Thunder,” our’95 GMC suburban, to warm up and thaw the tires. First stop was Denver. Not exactly on the way, but we had promised a straggler on the way known as Homeless Jenny that we would take her there before going to Cali. We then headed for my Uncle’s house in Farmington, NM. South across the snow of Raton and through Taos, we arrived at what appeared to be the beginning of a long icy mountain pass. We didn’t know if we had enough gas to make it across, but we did know we didn’t have enough to turn around. I almost got worried until Matt reminded me that we had plenty of warm clothes and whiskey from the MusicFest, so even if we ran out of gas, we could stay warm enough and get help the next day. With those words of encouragement, I prepared the Blue Thunder for take-off. The road was covered in snow, but the sky was cloudless, just a billion stars and a full moon to light the way.
Early that morning we made it to Farmington where I met up with a Friend, Lucas Hogue, a Navajo Indian that I met working in a Wild West show in Paris, France (whole ‘nother story). He invited us down to Grants, NM to visit his grandfather, who is 96 years old and missing both his legs. As soon as we got there, he awoke to play his drums and sing us a few songs. The next morning, he performed a ceremony to bless us and our travels. We sat in his living room in a circle, and in the center was a basket full of small leather bags they call bundles, each bundle represents a family member in the tribe. He gave each of us a bundle to hold and pray with as he sang songs. Lucas’s uncle was to help also- he placed cornmeal on our tongues, shoulders, and legs. In the end he gave us an eagle feather to keep us safe. It was the most spiritual thing I’ve ever been a part of.
The next morning we left New Mexico on our way across Arizona and into California. We came across a friend of ours from Houston, Jim Jar, and by coincidence he was going to be in LA that weekend for a car show and said he could probably get us a gig there. Sure enough, he called back and had gotten us this gig playing at Bobby Welder’s Speed Shop. It was a great time and it was a pleasure to meet some of the best gear heads of the hot rod world. Soon after that I received a phone call from a woman that lived in Malibu, CA and she had heard the album I recorded in Nashville. Her husband had started a website called Tagworld to help promote independent music, and she wanted to meet us and get our CD on the website. The next day we drove to Malibu and met Anouk for coffee.
Once she found out we didn’t have anywhere to stay, she kindly offered us a couch at her place and we were much obliged. That weekend she invited us to her friend’s birthday party in Hollywood. It was there we met Jon Gries, an actor, writer, and producer that has been in a number of movies; most recently he played “Uncle Rico” in a movie called Napoleon Dynamite. It turned out he was also a great songwriter and musician and wanted to help us get a few gigs. We played at a place called the King King in Hollywood, where we played to a crowd of about 10. Even though there were few people, it was till a good time as always.
It just so happened that one of the ten people in the crowd was Marc Ford, the guitarist for the Black Crowes. He liked our tunes and wanted to know if we had time to go into the studio and record while in LA. We said, of course, that time is the only thing we have. I gave him a copy of the album I recorded in Nashville and mentioned that I wanted to make some changes. The next week we went in the studio and came out with an album that sounded like us.
What started out to be a few weeks in California turned out to be a few months. Every time we turned around there seemed to be an opportunity. We played gigs with rock stars and drank wine with the movie stars. We learned to surf without losing our cowboy hats and made some of the best friends we will ever meet. We hit the road with nothing but a guitar, some drums, and a little bit of hope. We made it back to Texas with sunburns and smiles and bunch of good stories to tell. Maybe it was the eagle feather from the medicine man, or just luck. Either way it goes to show to never be afraid to just hit the road.
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This article originally published in the MusicFest Magazine and is reprinted with the permission of Ryan Bingham and Dickson Productions. WE usually don’t reprint stuff, but this article is worth it.