JHA Conference 2016

jhac16I’m on the way to my second Jefferson Highway Association Conference. It’s in Carthage, Missouri, this year. The heart of the conference takes place on Friday and Saturday with some pre-conference welcoming activities planned for Thursday and an optional sociability run available Sunday. I will be attending the Celebration of the Life of Laurel Kane in Afton, Oklahoma, on Saturday so will miss the day’s bus tour but hope to take in some of the sights on my own. I’m getting there on US-60, coming back on US-62, and staying at Boots Court while in Carthage. Beyond that, plans are flimsy. The photo at right is of the spot south of Louisville, Kentucky, where US-60 split from US-31W (Dixie Highway) and started carrying me towards Carthage in earnest.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Remembering Laurel

laurel_trikeLaurel Kane has been gone nearly three months. The Route 66 icon and personal friend died on January 28, 2016. In the days that followed, many of her friends and associates shared memories on Facebook, on their own blogs and websites, and in various comment threads and other locations around the web. For a hodgepodge of reasons, not all of which even I understood, I didn’t. It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of memories. There were plenty of those swirling through my mind as January came to an end but I made no effort to capture them. I just let them swirl.

There was no funeral gathering or big memorial service at the time of Laurel’s passing. Several members of the Route 66 community, in the area for another event, are gathering in Afton today to share memories. Her family is hosting a Celebration of the Life of Laurel Kane at her beloved Afton Station next Saturday which I will attending. This seems the right time for this post.

I knew Laurel for slightly more than a dozen years. Our first face-to-face meeting was in September 2003; Our last in May 2015. Phone calls, email exchanges, and other communication occurred both before our first and after our last physical meeting. Our most recent email exchange took place a few days before Christmas.

That initial meeting was at the Route 66 Festival in Springfield, Illinois, which I believe was the farthest from Afton Station I ever personally saw her. I had already driven Route 66 end-to-end twice before I learned about things like festivals. I learned of that one too late to get in on the awards banquet but did manage to snag a spot at the eGroup breakfast. (For any that don’t know, a Route 66 Yahoo group often gets together for breakfast during major Route 66 gatherings.) I knew only a few names and almost no faces and probably looked pretty much lost. Laurel invited me to sit with her and her daughter and I was lost no more. Of course, I soon learned that making people feel welcome was just one of Laurel’s talents.

We met several more time over the years. All were in either Tulsa or Afton with the exception of our last meeting in May when I was attending the Jefferson Highway Conference in Muskogee. Juggling Laurel’s always busy schedule and that of the conference, she and Ron McCoy met me for linner (Laurel’s name for a meal between lunch and dinner) in Pryor about halfway between Afton and Muskogee. Laurel insisted on getting together despite it interfering with watching her beloved Kentucky Derby.

pic01aThe picture of Laurel with Ron and Ethyl is from a 2011 stop at Afton Station. Not only do I miss seeing her at the station, I miss, as do so many others, reading her blog. It may have been created to promote the station but Thoughts from a Route 66 Business Owner might involve just about anything going on in any part of Laurel’s world. It was sometimes informative, sometimes insightful or entertaining, and always interesting.

I also miss Laurel as a reader. I miss her in ways that not everyone will. Laurel was one of a small group of people who subscribed to both my trip journals and my blog. She was actually part of the smaller group who read them with anything approaching regularity. I know Laurel did not read every word or look at every picture but she read and looked more than most. And she occasionally interacted with a comment or an email which made her part of an even smaller group. Laurel had visited every state in the union and had lived in several. Her response to a journal post often concerned something she remembered about where ever I was from her own time there. A semi-recent one was my January 2015 visit to Florida. When she saw I would be near a place where she once had a condo she dropped me a note. I was able to give her a little update and benefit from her restaurant suggestion.

The Cliff House in San Francisco was a completely different story. The historic restaurant is something of a symbolic end to the Lincoln Highway. Despite never having been there, Laurel had assembled a large collection of Cliff House memorabilia and got a little kick from the few times a road trip took me there.

Laurel also read my printed words and read them before almost anyone else. Like this website, the two books I have self published are more bucket list and hobby than a serious attempt at a new career. Laurel agreed to help me out by proofreading both books and both were considerably improved by her efforts. Although she had the knowledge and skill to be a grammar Nazi, Laurel was pretty much the opposite. Most of her corrections seemed like friendly suggestions and that’s essentially what they were. Laurel was never upset or even slightly offended on the rare occasion I chose not to follow a suggestion. She sometimes even encouraged a little rule breaking like when she followed tagging an incomplete sentence with “…but I like incomplete sentences.”

I had nothing to do with the creation of the photo at the top of this post. I stole it from Laurel’s Facebook page where she posted it as a profile picture back in 2011. Though unintentional, I did have something to do with that. Facebook friends of mine probably know of my habit of changing my profile picture to a similar one from my childhood when I set out on a road trip. When I did that for an August 2011 trip I added the description “Looking for a triker bar”. That’s when Laurel changed her profile photo to the one from her own childhood and asked, “Can I go to the triker bar with you?” We never made it to a triker bar but we did make it to Clanton’s and Tally’s and a few other places including the “Center of the Universe“. Every one of those many memories brings a smile.

Although they don’t all come from actual meetings, a search for “Laurel Kane” at DennyGibson.com returns a couple dozen references for anyone curious about other memories.

Music Review
Touch and Go
Dirk Hamilton

tagdh_cvrIn my view, the last few weeks have been a truly awesome time for new music. A new Willie Nile CD arrived with a few days left in March then, with April barely a week old, this delightful disk appeared. Dirk and Willie share more than an appreciative fan in Ohio and neighboring CD release dates. Both were touched by fame near the three-quarter mark of the last century and both ran away from the business of music for a few years. But both came back because musicians can’t stay away from music and songwriters can’t keep from writing songs.

Thirteen Dirk Hamilton written songs make up Touch and Go. Most are new but not all. “Build a Submarine” first appeared on 1990’s Too Tired to Sleep.  “The Only Thing that Matters” was on 1995’s Yep!. One of the new songs is something Dirk says he started writing in 1971 and finally finished in 2014. I heard that song, “For the Love of a Lady”, live in October of 2014. In my description of that concert I say that Dirk did three songs for the first time in front of an audience but I couldn’t remember any of the names. This was obviously one. I believe the others were “Head on a Neck” and “Mister Moreno” since I recognize both and both appear for the first time on this album.

Touch and Go owes its existence to a chance meeting with a long time fan. Producer and multi-instrumentalist Rob Laufer introduced himself to Dirk at a California house concert and explained that he had been a fan since the 1970s. One thing led to another and this Laufer produced album is the result.

It seems things started with Dirk recording a couple of songs in Laufer’s studio and Laufer subsequently “producing” “Gladiola” by adding several tracks to Dirk’s voice, guitar, and harmonica. In an interview on KPFA radio (available here) Hamilton says he was initially a little uncomfortable with the process as he is used to doing things live in the studio with the band but eventually decided that he liked the sound. I’m glad he did. Yes, magic can sometimes happen when musicians are recorded as a group with each feeding on the playing of the others and that simply can’t happen here but it’s sometimes only a possibility anyway. Rob Laufer is an excellent player as well as producer and he has constructed some really solid underpinnings for Dirk’s tunes. The organ on “Head on a Neck” and the guitar work on “Gladiola” and “Cheers to the Heart” are particularly nice.

“Cheers to the Heart” is a driving rocker and my current favorite tune on the CD. On my first listen the the album, it was somewhere in the middle of this song that I was struck with the thought that it would be right at home on one of the 1970s albums that made me a Dirk Hamilton fan. With that in mind, subsequent listens revealed that this was true of several other tunes on Touch and Go. The voice has aged but it has done so nicely and there are melodies just as well crafted and lyrics just as meaningful as those earlier offerings. Maybe it helps that Laufer is familiar with and an admirer of those early albums. He makes Dirk sound like Dirk.

What Hamilton calls the most important song on the album closes it. “Mister Moreno” was inspired by the 2012 Sandy Hook shootings and Dirk says performing it can sometimes be a real challenge because of the emotions it brings to the surface. Dirk’s lyrics can sometimes be abstract and sometimes openly playful but they are almost always insightful and thought provoking. Sometimes they are crystal clear as are these lines from “Mister Moreno”:

Politicians talk of peace, dining with gunrunners in the plaza
Sharing photos of their families and the missiles they are selling down in Gaza.

Another thing that has remained constant and is reminiscent of the early days is Hamilton’s caring and concern for this planet. That concern is clearly present in several tracks on Touch and Go but it seems a little more accessible than it has been lately and that just might be because of Laufer’s contributions. Dirk and Rob make a good team. Hope they do it again.

Buy this and other Dirk Hamilton CDs here.

A Futbol First

fcc0416_01Cincinnati has a new professional futbol… er, soccer team. It’s not the first. Rummaging through an assortment of teams, vanishing leagues, and shifting designations it looks to me as if the most recent fully professional soccer team to call this city home was the 2006 Cincinnati Kings. The match that the new team, Futbol Club Cincinnati, played yesterday was not their first. That was a March 26 loss to Charleston Battery. Nor was it their first win. That occurred April 3 at Bethlehem Steel. It wasn’t even their first home match or their first home win. Both of those were accomplished  with last Saturday’s game against Charlotte Independence. The match was, however, a first for me. It wasn’t just the first FC Cincinnati match I’ve attended or my first professional soccer match. It was the first “real” soccer match of any sort that I’ve ever seen in person.

All three of my kids played soccer at some point or another and I saw many of their games. I don’t want to belittle those games or the players efforts but the truth is that they often knew little more about soccer than I did. My oldest son, Cris, was an exception. He became a real fan. On his most recent visit to Ohio, we spent an evening in a bar specifically to see a World Cup match of particular interest to him. He worked hard to keep his old man from looking too stupid but I retained very little of what I learned. On his way to becoming an adult soccer fan, Cris did some fairly serious playing himself. Not long after high school graduation he joined an indoor soccer team and I attended a number of their matches. Those games were some of the fastest and most exciting competitions I’ve ever witnessed but indoor soccer is not the same sport embodied in the World Cup.

Part of the attraction of any sport is the culture that surrounds it. I have the feeling that that is more so with soccer than other sports but that could simply be the result of my outsider’s viewpoint. With help, I was able to overcome a little of my ignorant outsider status for my first match. Apparently formal supporter groups are standard procedure in the world of soccer. They exist in other sports, Cincinnati’s Rosie Reds immediately comes to mind, but they seem much more prominent in soccer. I am aware of three such groups, The Pride, The Den, and Die Innenstadt, associated with FC Cincinnati. I’m reasonably well acquainted with one of Die Innenstadt’s organizers and close friends with someone who joined a bit later. I experienced my first pro soccer match as a Die Innenstadt hanger-on.

For the first home game, members met at the Rhinegeist Brewery near downtown and walked to the game from there. For this and all future home games, Mecklenburg Gardens is the official meeiting place. The distance is about the same but the walk is now fairly level rather than a one mile climb up a Cincinnati hillside. Our participation was not quite as complete as we had planned. Mecklenburg Gardens was packed when my friend and I arrived. The group started their march several minutes ahead of the announced time and, more importantly, several minutes before we had worked our way through the long and slow moving beer line. We “marched” to the stadium as a group of two.

fcc0416_02By the time we arrived, the group was in place in an end zone area known as the Bailey. We took our place in the Bailey but chose seats off to the side thinking that would avoid some of the major flag waving and such and might give us a clearer view of the near goal. That helped to a degree but the entire Bailey was filled by game time and most of those fans stood through every minute of play.

fcc0416_05fcc0416_04fcc0416_03Players were on the field warming up but took off ahead of the opening ceremonies. Both teams reentered the field together. Each player was accompanied by a jersey wearing youngster. That’s something I wish I’d made an effort to learn more about.

fcc0416_06fcc0416_07fcc0416_08The home team scored first and the Bailey celebrated with an orange smoke bomb. A blue bomb had started the match. FC Cincinnati would score one more time but it was in the final minutes long after visiting Louisville City FC, who had their own small but energetic group of supporters in the stands, had three points on the board.

fcc0416_09So I got to see FC Cincinnati’s first home loss but I had a great time and may have even learned a thing or two. And I also got to be part of a record setting crowd. The 20,497 in attendance last night was a USL regular season record. Cincinnati may really be ready for soccer. Just before the match started I texted my futboler son to let him know I was about to experience something new. His reply was the best thing I read all day. “Don’t forget your scarf!”

Cincinnati Strut

od2016_01I’m sure some folks get tired of hearing about how special Opening Day is in Cincinnati but that’s not going to stop me. I won’t write as much about the history as I did back in 2012 but I will again mention that the world’s oldest professional baseball team always opens at home and always has a marvelous parade. The picture at right shows people gathering for the parade on Race Street. Behind them is Washington Park and Music Hall stands beyond the park. The park was completely renovated a few years ago and is now a popular gathering place for families. Music Hall will be closing soon for its own renovation. I reported on a performance there a couple of weeks ago.

od2016_02Lou Piniella managed the Reds in their last World Series win in 1990. I remember it vividly and recall thinking that it had been a long dry spell since The Big Red Machine wins in 1975 and ’76. But that was just fourteen years and the Reds have now played twenty-five seasons without even getting to a World Series let alone winning one.

od2016_03I snapped a picture of the Corvair station wagon as it approached but didn’t realize who was in it until it was beside me. That’s legendary King Records studio drummer Phillip Paul with who I believe is his good friend Roberta Narcisse beside him. Paul recorded the original “The Twist” with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, “Train Kept a Rollin'” with Tiny Bradshaw, “Hide Away” with Freddie King, and an incredibly long list of other hits. Paul isn’t quite as flashy as another local music legend who was in last year’s parade but, while Bootsy Collins performs only occasionally, the ninety year old Paul has a steady weekend gig in downtown Cincinnati.

od2016_04President William Howard Taft threw a ceremonial first pitch to start the Washington Senators 1910 season and every president since has thrown a first pitch at an Opening Day, World Series, of All Star game at some time while in office. Taft was a Cincinnati native and his former home is now a National Historic Site. A fancy brewpub right on today’s parade route bears his name. If you have any thoughts of being a Taft impersonator, Cincinnati is the place to be.

od2016_07od2016_06od2016_05In less than a year of existence, the Red Hot Dancing Queens have made me a most sincere fan. As I told a small group of them I encountered after the parade, if everyone could have a mere fraction of the fun these gals have, the world would be a much better place. Watch for them at parades and festivals throughout the summer.

od2016_08od2016_09od2016_10Here’s another parade group that I like a lot. I recall first seeing the Wapakoneta Lawnmower Precision Drill Team a long time ago in a Saint Patrick’s Day but they haven’t been in that parade for many years. They might have realized that the fun was draining from that parade well before I did. After completing one of their precision choreographed drills, there was a pause in the parade and some of the team members dashed over to the curb to high-five some of the spectators. Only after he had rejoined the formation did the group of boys in front of me notice the faux southern exposure on the guy they had just exchanged high-fives with. As we all know, a little snicker makes everybody feel better.

Rock ‘n’ Rail Redux

pic01cThe train was canceled on my first attempt to ride the rails to DC for a concert and on the second attempt it was hours late. This time it was just right and I’m in the nation’s capital ready to see Willie Nile and his band perform their new album. I’m just a little late for the cherry blossoms and the weather doesn’t look all that promising but I hope to get to look around the mall a little bit before show time.

The journal for the trip is here. This entry is to let blog subscribers know of the trip and to provide a place for comments.

Music Review
World War Willie
Willie Nile

wwwillie_cvrI’ve been a serious Willie Nile fan for barely two years or something like 5% of his career. I feel bad about that. I know I missed a lot and assumed that I’d missed him at his peak. World War Willie makes that assumption laughable.

I’ve told elsewhere how I remembered 1980’s “Vagabond Moon” only after his 2013 road trip anthem, “American Ride”, caught my ear and how I was subsequently blown away seeing him live in February of 2014. I can’t say for certain that Willie, who is just a little over a year younger than me, is as energetic on stage as he once was but it’s possible. Are the shows I’ve seen as good as the ones I’ve missed? How do performances of the most recent two years compare to those that came before? I can’t know that but I do know that they are outstanding and compare most favorably with some great past concerts that I didn’t miss.

While it is impossible to go back to attend those missed shows, it is quite possible to listen to music created in the past and I did that eagerly. There were no disappointments. Earlier Willie Nile albums held up well when compared to American Ride and vice versa.

The first new Willie Nile product to be released following my conversion was 2014’s If I Was a River. It was a delight but different. It was mostly solo and acoustic and maybe the sort of album that fools like me think of an aging rocker doing as he slows down but Willie wasn’t slowing down at all. The piano was his first instrument and he told writer Peter Gerstenzang that he had “…wanted to do an all-piano album for a number of years”.  He also told Gerstenzang that, “I’m gonna make a full-on rockin’ album with my band for the next release.” And so he has.

The new album rocks as hard as Places I Have Never Been or Streets of New York or any of the other previous Willie Nile offerings. As guitarist Poppa Chubby says, in one of the first outside things I read about World War Willie, “There’s not a single down moment on this record.” What there is is eleven new songs and one cover. There is serious stuff like “”Let’s All Come Together” and fun stuff like the title track and “Grandpa Rocks”. And of course there is serious stuff disguised as fun stuff like “Citibank Nile”. The lone cover is Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” which Nile has frequently played live and on which he has put his own stamp.

Great characters populate great songs. Folks in my age bracket might identify with the subject of “Grandpa Rocks” whose “hair what’s left grows down to his socks” and who wears a “‘been there’ grin”. I feel like the line “He ain’t afraid of dyin’ he just likes bein’ alive” fits perfectly. The “Runaway Girl” is “a two-dream girl in a one-horse town”. The album’s most disturbing character appears in what is currently my favorite song in the collection. With “fire in her eyes and a pint between her thighs” the young girl in “Trouble Down in Diamond Town” is clearly set on self destruction. The song’s slightly syncopated three shots mark some of the most efficient and effective use of drumsticks this side of the opening of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”.

Drummer Alex Alexander provides a lot more than three shots. Neither he nor bassist Johnny Pisano are ever intrusive but focusing on either will reveal some truly impressive work that both supports the tunes and drives them forward. One time Eagle Steuart Smith contributes guitar to a couple of tracks including the Levon Helm tribute “When Levon Sings”. However most of the album’s guitar work comes from band regular Matt Hogan and that includes some mighty nice slide playing on the bluesy “Citybank Nile”.

“Grandpa Rocks” ends with the spoken words “Where’s my cane? Who are these people?Get offa my cloud.” It’s natural to think that Grandpa is Willie and that those words come from the real Willie Nile. However just a little thought is all that’s required to see that that simply can’t be true. Everybody’s welcome on Willie’s cloud. Climb aboard and listen up.

Coincidence at Play

tcamb1I’ve yet to read To Kill a Mockingbird. I have seen the 1962 movie multiple times and now I’ve seen the play. I had hoped to read the book between learning that the play would be performed this season at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and actually seeing it but that didn’t work out.

The Friday night performance would be the biggest event of my week but I didn’t expect it to lead to a blog post. I anticipated that a canned Trip Peek would be published this morning. A Friday morning email got me to thinking differently.

The email was the April E-News from the Smithsonian. One of the topics was “The Scottsboro Boys” with this two sentence tease: “The case of the Scottsboro Boys, which lasted more than 80 years, helped to spur the civil rights movement. To Kill a Mockingbird, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Harper Lee, is also loosely based on this case.”

I read the article referenced in the email and could easily see similarities between the 1931 real world incident and the fictional one Harper Lee set just a few years later. Both involved black men accused of imaginary crimes against white women and both occurred in a world where color mattered a whole lot more than truth. Later I read that in 2005 Harper Lee said this was not the incident she had in mind when writing To Kill a Mockingbird but that it served “the same purpose”. Despite there not being an official connection between the Scottsboro Boys and To Kill a Mockingbird, reading about the incident and its repercussions served a purpose for me, too. It provided an unpleasant picture of this country near the midpoint between the Civil War and today. The accuracy of that picture is reinforced by a contemporary pamphlet, They Shall Not Die!, referenced in the Smithsonian article.

tcamb2I took my seat on Friday with the Scottsboro story fresh in my mind. The stage was bare except for a single light bulb which would actually be removed at the play’s start although it would return later. The stage consists of a large circular center and a surrounding ring both of which rotate. Sometimes they rotate in opposite directions which can seem to expand the distance between actors or the distance they travel. Set Designer Laura Jellinek states that “our main goal was to eliminate any artifice between the audience and the story” and this set certainly accomplishes that. As one audience member observed during the discussion that followed the play, she briefly looked around for the jury during the courtroom scene before realizing that “we were the jury”. At its most crowded, the stage holds nine chairs for the key figures in that courtroom scene.

The discussion I mentioned happens after every performance. Anyone interested moves close to the stage to listen or participate. There were naturally questions about this specific production but there were also questions about the story. There is a sign in the lobby that I now wish I’d taken a picture of. “Don’t read books that think for you. Read books that make you think.” might not be 100% accurate but it’s close. Friday night’s discussion was evidence that this play is prompting some thinking and I’ve no reason to think that discussions following other performances are any different.

tcamb3There is also a set of blackboards in the lobby. As I assume is true at every performance, the blackboards started out empty except for a question at the top of each. By the time people started heading home, the boards were full. It’s pretty clear that some thinking is going on here, too.

It was the coincidence of the Smithsonian email showing up on the day I was set to see the play that nudged me towards making it a blog entry. There is another coincidence of sorts that I find interesting.  Each week, the blog This Cruel War publishes an article on lynchings. The article is published on Wednesdays but, since I subscribe via RSS and I seem to always be behind in my RSS reading, it is often a day or more after publication before I read a specific article. I read this week’s post the morning after my Playhouse visit. In it, the source of the series’ title, “This Disgraceful Evil”, is given. It comes from a 1918 Woodrow Wilson speech in which he calls upon America “…to make an end of this disgraceful evil.”

We don’t have to deal with actual lynchings now as much as in 1918 but there’s still plenty of crap going on. “It cannot live”, Wilson continues, “where the community does not countenance it.”

Originally scheduled to end today, April 3, To Kill a Mockingbird‘s run a Playhouse in the Park has been extended through April 9.