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July 2006


Morning. Hot. Shades drawn. Where are we? A squinting glance outside reveals a hilltop vista, St. George, Utah; off to the right below, amidst trees is a large and eerily white 19th century temple, first big Mormon edifice in Utah. We are lords of all we survey. Alas, it’s not enough. We pack up, drive off without Paul M, come back and get him, make a beeline for the nearby Starbucks, obviously a critical stop.

This Starbucks, tucked into a maxi mini mall, has the innocence and high energy of the first Starbucks openings in California, pardon our indulgence in 1990’s nostalgia. The place is packed. The Utahans are excited to be here, and we groggy Angelenos are not. We are here to inject awareness into our spent neurons. The thrill is gone. To go, please. Oh, that’s right. It’s all to go. We drive. Utah is perhaps the most beautiful state in the country, if your tastes lean to the desert end of the spectrum. I-15 south disputes the notion that there’s nothing to see on the Interstate system. The road plunges through spectacular sedimentary rock formations, some twisted into steep angles, and we watch the Yukon’s outdoor temperature gauge climb from 108 to 114 as we hit the lower upper desert floor. We’re crossing a vast desert plateau.

Gas in Mesquite, NV, our 30th state of the tour. The plan was to stake Paul M to $100 and set him loose at the poker tables, but home beckons. Maybe we’ll stop in Las Vegas.A while later, we murmur, sighting the hazy distant skyline of Sin City. This is our last chance. Much debate as we approach, pulled by the attraction between the fabricated gravitas of Gomorrah and our own gambling lust. Paul L suggests putting the cash box on red on the roulette table and letting it ride. We could double our money, then double it again. Naturally, objections are raised to this simple plan.

Now we’re approaching. Now we’re in the city limits. Now we’re considering offramps. Rob, perhaps the most deeply conflicted, is at the wheel. Is he going to pull off? Shawn urges no. Tortured ambivalence from the two Pauls. What’s going to happen?Rob lurches off the freeway. This is no surprise to anyone. He proposes a faux sensible plan for breakfast at the Golden Nugget. Then we’ll see what happens. The weak willed Hawks assent. We circle downtown. There’s no parking. It’s blazing hot. We get back on the freeway. Oddly enough, the freeway entrance is not as well marked as the offramp. But we find it.

We’ve done it. We’ve resisted Las Vegas, for the first time in the Hawks tour history. It feels okay. Not great. Sober, sensible, not great.There’s a last exit before the open desert heading southward to L.A., and we take it, get adequate breakfast at an adequate restaurant. Paul L loses a nickel in a video poker game. We drive.

This trip has been memorable as always, but we feel we’ve struggled against a wind of mildly bad luck. Many little incidents have dogged our path across this vast land. Probably wise not to further test the spirits in Las Vegas. But we’ve prevailed, with our spirits and beings intact. Big thunderheads flank our corridor through the Mojave desert. We’re in heavy Sunday afternoon traffic. It’s amazing how many people drive to Las Vegas on the weekend. Somewhere before Baker a miraculous rain falls upon us and our fellow travelers.Traffic opens up. We stop at an apocalyptic gas station just outside Victorville. Mad Max was a prophetic vision. Shawn Nourse threatens Victorvillean Neil Morrow, a ’50’s oldies singer he works with, with a visit, then lets him off the hook. We drop down the Cajon pass, make it through the Inland Empire on the 210 in record time. L.A. looks balmy, a more muted and soiled green than the mountain and midwest green we’ve been immersed in for weeks.

Suddenly we’re at Chez Nourse. We open the Yukon doors. Surprise. It’s very hot and humid, like Chicago was. This is not regular L.A. weather. These are strange times. Strange and good to be home.


Late night. Darkness on the I-15, our spaceship hurtling southward.

We have a plan. It’s a good one. And it’s based upon a newly coined Hawks philosophy: Gamble to Win. We’re not just driving mindlessly to Las Vegas to be ushered in and out of a money siphoning mega-casino. No, we’re stopping in Mesquite, NV, where Paul M recently spent two weeks playing country music and Texas Hold ‘Em. He knows the town, he knows the tables, he knows Hold ‘Em.This is not gambling. It’s science. We’re going to stake Paul Marshall, and he is going to multiply our investment by a factor of–?? This is where science yields to fate, spirits, even random chance. But our foundation is science. SCIENCE!


The Mangy Moose is a very large bar in the Teton Village complex, with posters in the band room letting you know that Charlie Musselwhite, Burning Spear, Yellowman, and the North Mississippi Allstars play here regularly. We sound check, check into nearby condo rooms, very deluxe, and the Moose witty waitress Casey feeds us out on the deck as the sun goes down. The Hawks make a wager on how soon the sun goes down. Paul L’s the clear winner, until a 13 year old kid at the next table gets in on a last minute wager, makes the winning bet as his mom and dad, in big cowboy hat from Montana, laugh. Rob wins the Hawks pot back by guessing the state the family is from. Montana.

Two sets for a sleepy summer crowd, highlighted by many friends of Paul L’s sister Mary showing up as well as a surprise visit from the Sharborough’s of Rochester, MN. It’s great to have a roomful of beautiful women filling the dance floor. Life on the road.A Maker’s Mark end of tour celebration back at our condo: we make it through most of Dazed and Confused (brilliant movie), crash out, a deep drool filled sleep for the weary Hawks. We’ve been through 28 states on this summer tour, played 37 shows if you include radio appearances. It’s time to go home.

Next day, pack up the faithful Yukon, breakfast at our favorite hipster cafe in Wilson, WY, over the Tetons to green, green Idaho.idaho.jpg

We’re motivated now. We’re on a deadline, far more serious than making soundcheck: dinner at the beloved Red Iguana Cafe in Salt Lake. The Hawks have managed to eat here several times on our way to and from mountain states gigs, and the Cafe even put Paul M’s review from this very tour diary on their website. So we power through beautiful Farm Idaho, honk the horn at the Utah border, and by late afternoon on I-15 we espy that beacon of food and Mormonism, the Wasatch Range. We’re on time. The sun sets on our anticipation as we park in the still baking parking lot. Not too bad of a wait. We’re in.

red iguana.jpgDelicious. Words fail us. We stagger out into twilight, back in the Yukon, south towards unknown night lodging.


As always, we’re getting to the gig with little time to spare. We motor through steadily rising mountains and see our first forests, our minds elevating with the elevation. A river leads the way. Exit Bozeman, drive down the main drag, stop in at Cactus Records to say hi, race south on the 191 into a narrow canyon dug by a beautiful fly fisherman filled river. Right into Big Sky, a huge ski resort. Look for the white pavilion, Ron Craighead, KGLT pioneer DJ, had told us, and there it was, in a dramatic wide green field in the shadow of a scrub and then pine covered mountain.

Big Sky puts on a weekly outdoor concert, and tonight it’s us, and it’s good to be here. The view from the stage is breathtaking, to the towering mountains, and the sound crew is great, Brian and his boys get the sound dialed in.Families, hippies, local mountain people, and vacationers with picnic baskets filter in, pay their $10 and find a spot in the grass. We play into sunset, and twilight, and night, two long sets. The crowd at the end gives us a big encore, and it’s a good, good thing. We do an encore that turns into a mini-set and the hard core of the crowd step out of the dark field to the edge of the stage and dance wildly. A cinematic end to an outdoor paradise show.

Besides DJ Ron, the other pillar of support for the Hawks in the Mountains is Jenny, another KGLT DJ and a wild free spirit of music and kindness. Today you find your tribe across interstate lines, and we are grateful for ours.Next morning we’re back on the 191 south. We find ourselves trapped in a slow moving line towards a $25 entry fee at the Yellowstone Park entrance. Dom, our man at the Mangy Moose in Jackson Hole, next stop, calls us, says abort, abort! Our journey through Yellowstone would have been torturous, slowed by ambulances hauling off tourists mauled by bears they were attempting to photograph or just collapsing in National Park heat. We turn around, take a long loop into Idaho and then back east over a pass in the Tetons into Wilson, WY, then north through meadows and aspens to Teton Village, another massive ski resort carved into a beautiful mountainside.


Sure, we could afford the one way rent a car (although rental represents half our guarantee in Louisville). But we want to shatter the alienation that’s keeping hitchhikers off America’s onramps. On our entire 6 week, 10,500 mile tour we’ve seen exactly one hitcher. To a veteran of the glory days, when Santa Barbara would be clogged with 500 long haired adventurers thumbing to San Francisco and Seattle, seeking or offering weed and love, this vanishing is on the scale of the buffalo or passenger pigeon.

Let’s bring back the free ride, America. Let’s spread the love. Help out a brother, a sister, a country rock band. Let’s make this country great again.


We’ve just crossed the raging wide Yellowstone River, which flows north under the bridge into Billings. To the right is a massive Conoco refinery with cracking towers and huge tanks, smells just like Long Beach. A cluster of radio towers on the high river bluffs where Indians watched the approaching feds. Does anyone mourn Custer? This town is sprawling, under construction and decay. Every Product Your Horse Needs. Montana Women’s prison. Poker and Keno in a nearby bar. Anti-meth graffiti scrawled on abandoned shacks.

We reach respectable downtown Billings, new five story buildings, with new pedestrian bridges at its showcase intersection. We’re seeking Stella’s, a café featured in Road Food, a thick guide to off the beaten path American eateries, present from the saintly Charles and Gina in NYC. We’ve managed to hit three of these places so far, a minor miracle. Stella’s is a large and anonymous modern restaurant, with nothing very distinctive except a giant pancake that overflows the banks of its plate. You could make one at home. Stella’s receives a Hawks Adequacy Award. As does Billings.

When we get back to the Yukon, we realize we’ve taken out quite a few bugs on this tour through (so far) 28 states. That’s a lot of karma, in thousands of tiny doses. Perhaps a car wash will unburden us of this cosmic debt.bugz.jpg


At the onramp gas station lot in depressed Miles City, Montana, fading town with home made anti-meth posters in store windows, on the high plains between Badlands and Billings–sits a tiny Espresso Hut; and Rob W., our morning driver, comes to life, makes a hard turn into the lot. Four fire fighters in shorts, one of them female, are fueling up, pouring half a jar of sugar into their coffees. They’ve just come off a big fire to the south and are heading north for another blaze.

A very nice lady pours double cappuccinos, chatting cheerily as the espresso drizzles from the machine. She’s not stopping the flow, now clear as a mountain stream. Still our barista chats, as we urban degenerates watch in silent horror. Finally she shuts the machine off. And now for the soy milk. Not bad, nice foam, doh! She stops pouring the steamed milk into the cup before too much of that icky foam can spill in. Here you go!North Dakota is depressed. Collapsed 19th century houses and rotting barns stand on many farms, and little towns are half boarded up. This is what happens when farm culture is thrust, blinking and bewildered, into the global economy. When the tables turn, we’ll take canning and composting lessons from our barista.


We pull off for a piss stop in near darkness. Paul L runs blindly down the straight dirt road towards a fading blue patch that persists in the dark sky. A brief Indian chant, shout out to the people we wish we could be, or be part of. Back in the Yukon.

Billings or Miles City? It’s ten p.m., we’ve powered 700 miles in a day, and DJ Shawn is keeping us artificially pumped with his pied piper iPod mix. Three hours to Billings, less than an hour to Miles City. Shawn dials up Joni Mitchell. Our pulses slow.Miles City it is. Eight motels a stone’s throw from the I-94: Best Western, Motel 6, Comfort Inn, and all the rest. All booked up. The Best Western clerk points his steel claw northward. “I’ve booked you two rooms at the Olive Motel. Left on Main, under the bridge about a mile.” Do they have wi-fi? “You’d better take these rooms. They’re holding them for you.” This burly man with the artificial hand is intimidating. He’s implying that if we don’t take the Olive Motel rooms we’ll be sleeping in the Yukon.

Next to us is a young father who is quietly losing his mind. Hook hand doesn’t see any reservation for Best Western on his computer, even though young father made them through OnStar hours ago. Apparently the Onstar radio ads aren’t sharing the dark side of this modern miracle. Hook picks up the phone again, makes reservations for young father and family at the Olive. Young father races out the door, into his Explorer. He wants to get to the Olive before we do, in case there’s another screwup. He guns the motor. Our Yukon is blocking him in. He backs up towards us. Okay, okay. We back up. He backs up, but doesn’t have room to cut right and out of the lot. He cuts left. We make our move, cutting right behind young father, who indeed tries to back up to block our exit, but he’s not quick enough. We’re on the road to the Olive Motel, young father hot on our tail until a slow moving Falcon cuts in front of him. We drive slowly to display that this is not a race, this is the land of plenty. Although it is strange that all rooms are booked in the middle of the Dakota plains on a Wednesday night.

We arrive at the Olive, a stately and decrepit hotel with wood columns and swastika patterned intricate tile floor, built in the 1880s when Miles City was a boom town, centered around a federal fort and Indian outpost. The whole town moved when the Yellowstone River shifted course. The Olive Hotel is too funky for young father. He and family flee in their Explorer. Lord save them. We ask about Internet access. The gray-haired night clerk with the injured ear looks down, closes his eyes, and shakes his head despairingly.

Our upstairs rooms smell, and there appears to be some kind of young hooker action going on down the long The Shining type hallways. One of the beds isn’t made up, so downstairs the clerk hands us sheets. But damn it, the TV has better choices than any Hampton or Comfort Inn we’ve stayed in so far, endless channels. The beds are comfy. One of the showers works. A late night Maker’s Mark party, watching an old Pee Wee Herman episode. And so to bed.


What does a country rock band talk about on a thousand mile trek across North Dakota and Montana?

Well, Cherry Garcia, for example. Shawn is fantasizing about eating a Maple Creamee, but this is not going to happen as we enter the Badlands. But a Cherry Garcia ice cream bar by Ben and Jerry’s (also a Vermont phenomenon) is at least an outside possibility. Cherry Garcia is at the pinnacle of corporate standardization parameters. It’s almost too good. Rich red cherry ice cream with real cherry chunks dipped generously, langourously in dark chocolate, cooling to an irregular and beguiling shape, like the red wax on a bottle of Maker’s Mark. —–