Is there anything better than a winding Sunday afternoon drive through the Texas countryside on a spring day? The voyage is a mind-altering escape through a visage of greens, blues, reds, browns, hills and flats. I think it should be state mandated of anyone who is able to participate.
When I was a little kid there was nothing better than hopping on my black and gold Huffy and hoofing it around the neighborhood or up to my family’s full service gas station (back when such things existed). As I got older, I graduated from Huffy to Mongoose to Suzuki and Kawasaki. My friends, and I became dirt bike kings. And as I got further involved in these new, grand machines my imagination ran more rampant. I was Bob Hanna and Ricky Johnson and if I was dared I was Evil Kneivel.
Around the end of this phase I moved onto actual vehicles. Anything with four wheels that was street legal. Whether I was driving or not, just the thrill of being away from your parents, the ability and capacity to go anywhere you wanted.
The first inklings of latter day road trips were just mindless meanderings through the back roads of McLennan and Hill counties. Not the kind of backroading you do on Saturday night with two cases of beer and a carload of friends, but the kind without a purpose or sense of direction that always ended with a good story.
Pat said it best in “Carry On” when he lamented that “everybody’s gotta get away sometimes.” And I couldn’t agree more. Whether getting away is a vacation to the Carribean, a jaunt to Vegas, or just a 45 minute drive through the countryside, it is something that must be done occasionally to keep your soul and spirit sound. It’s as relaxing as a massage, you don’t need an appointment or a travel agent…just a spare hour, good tunes and open roads…either blacktop or gravel.
Nashville guys get into a who can be more country competition when doling out lyrics about things like this. Songs like “She’s Country as My Sexy John Deere Down at the Bonfire” are flooding country radio, but down here in Texas we’ve managed to capture that backroad bluebonnet feeling without being pandering, ignorant or ill informed.
I speak from personal experience. I wrote a song called “Down the Road” about the following backroad experience. Original title, right?
Almost exactly ten years ago, two of my best buddies and I were bumming around on a Sunday afternoon. This was before “Sunday Funday” was an en vogue term…we just called it Sunday.
We decided to hit the backroads of Hays and Comal counties to see what trouble we could turn up. We’d done this before, but today was different. After about an hour we hit up Hunter Rd. For those that don’t know Hunter Road is the scenic FM route that connects San Marcos and New Braunfels. We’d gone this way a hundred times. But, on this day we made a pit stop about half way at Riley’s Tavern.
Riley’s was the first bar in Texas to get its license after Prohibition and it was proud of the fact. We strode in to find Dub Miller tending bar, a baby-faced Brady Black sitting on a bar stool, some nice Baptist ladies enjoying a Sunday afternoon cocktail after a morning spent at church in a neighboring town and a couple Bandido bikers cooling their heels back by the pool tables.
In 2001, we were just young kids who loved this music and didn’t know that many people who were big time into it. So, to waltz in and find Dub Miller twisting lids and running tabs blew our minds.
It wasn’t long before one of the owners came in and began chatting us up. He asked if we played music. We said yes. I’m guessing the fact that we were younger than 70 yet had the not yet ironic attire of trucker hats and aviator shades on tipped him off.
Even though we’d never played outside of our apartment or a late-night campfire jam, he invited us to come back later that night to “perform”. Buoyed by the ego boost and fueled by $1 Keystone Light longnecks, we headed down the road to New Braunfels and began to plan just what we would do that evening for a performance.
Winding our way through New Braunfels, we headed out to River Rd. There was no River Road Icehouse at the start of River Rd just yet. Just an old dump named the Oasis that was in the process of being converted into what we all now know as River Road Icehouse.
Doug Moreland had just recently relocated to behind the bar in a camper and as we were turning right on to River Rd we saw him walking into the bar. We stopped and rolled the window down to see what was up. He invited us into tour the bar that would soon be opening. We met the owner, Ken, and just like earlier at Riley’s…he offered us jobs on the spot. We would be bouncers and barbacks. Even though we already had other jobs and were going to school full time, it sounded great to us.
Getting paid to be at a bar? No brainer.
As we were leaving, we mentioned to Doug that we had a gig at Riley’s later that night. He laughed that patented Moreland laugh and said he had to come see this. With that vote of confidence, we hit River Road and took the scenic route back to San Marcos.
Just one problem.
When we got to the end of River Road we didn’t know where to go. We were lost. This was pre-smart phone. No map in the car. No cell service where we were.
We’ll just “bird dog” it we thought.
Two hours later we were in a place called Airport, TX. I hadn’t been there before and I haven’t been back there since. I probably couldn’t get back there even if I knew Brooklyn Decker was waiting there nude with $7 million dollars.
At any rate, we eventually lumbered back into San Marcos. Cleaned ourselves up, grabbed our guitars and headed back for Riley’s. One of my friends dressed up like an Ari Gold type and placed his cellphone on his hip. He says “I’m gonna act like y’alls agent.”
Whatever that meant.
By now, there was actually a decent crowd. We load in our two guitars. No mics. No amps. No PA.
Several real musicians like Matt Skinner are there now enjoying the fruits of having Mr. Miller behind the bar. By fruits I mean free booze.
Much to the chagrin of 97% of the patrons, the jukebox is turned off and we kick into Eddie Rabbit’s “Driving My Life Away” completely unplugged. Halfway through the song, Brady Black has joined us on fiddle and people are singing along. This is going awesome we thought to ourselves.
Then, the song ended. About 4 people clapped and out of the back we hear “Turn the damn jukebox back on!” We could take a hint, so after a few more songs I gladly handed my beat up Takamine over to Skinner, my buddy lent Moreland his pawn shop Martin and we headed to the bar to enjoy a very cool acoustic show.
Soon, one of those old Baptist ladies that had been there in the afternoon sauntered up to our Ari Gold rip-off agent and the following conversation takes place.
Old lady: “Those boys were amazing! They must come play at my house. I’m having a huge party next Saturday night and they’d be perfect.”
Ari: “Why, yes I think they are available. It’ll be $300.” He later said that number just came to him and he figured she’d balk at it…well, she didn’t.
Old lady: “We’ve got a deal.”
Ari comes back over to us and says…”Hey guys, just booked you another gig!”
We asked where this mythical gig would be.
Ari says, “Hold on, I forgot to get the details…I’ll be right back.”
Ari shuffles through the smoke and shoulders of strangers to the back corner where the old lady was sitting with her friends puffing on Basic Lights and chugging Pearl from a can. We see them deep in discussion, then all of a sudden Ari gets this odd look on his face and I see him mouth “thank you…we’ll be there!”
“So where is it?” I ask him as he arrives back at our collection of barstools.
His answer: “Airport, TX”
Needless to say, next Saturday night we were performing our new duties at the grand opening of River Road Icehouse and not in Airport, TX at the delusional, obviously deaf woman’s house.
So, I encourage you to hit the backroads now that spring has arrived. Crank some tunes …and who knows you might wind up in Airport, TX.
-There is debate among web writers about appropriate article length. Some argue that you must keep it short due to attention spans and people viewing on mobile devices. I always try to do some of both. Some articles are meant to be short. But, I think there’s an audience for longer stories on the web from time to time…am I wrong?
-So excited that April is finally here! LJTs, baseball season and flip-flop weather. Is this heaven? No, it’s not Iowa either…it’s Texas.
-Speaking of baseball, if you’re not following the coolest Texas Ranger on Twitter yet, what’s stopping you? Josh Frasier is one of the biggest Texas Music fans I know…and he has the coolest job ever! Bullpen catcher. He’s got a new weekly segment with our friend Justin Frazell on the Ranch every Thursday morning at 9:40. Check it out!
-We will be announcing some cool events we’re involved with in the next couple weeks including the complete Greenfest line-up on Monday!
-I love the Dallas Cowboys, but if the NFL can’t get its ducks in a row by August, I’m completely fine with Fox and other networks broadcasting college and high school games on Sundays/Mondays. College and high school have a more pure, better product anyhow.
-Some talk that all this financial upheaval in the state might finally lead to gambling going full blown in Texas. I wonder if we’d see a bunch of Oklahoma and Louisiana license plates at the Texas casinos?
-Worse waiting room: dentist/doctor office or auto repair place?
–This month’s recommended film: The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. At times terrifying and at times humorous, this documentary of some Appalachain hillbillies is always mesmerizing.
–This month’s recommended album: Brian Wright-House on Fire. A Waco native who cut his musical teeth in the Los Angeles club scene, Wright describes his music as somewhere between Woody Guthrie and the Velvet Underground. That broad comparison seems odd until you listen to this record and realize that’s a pretty apt description for No Depression‘s latest darling.
-“Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.”-Mark Twain