Hawks Axiom #43 states that the goofier a club’s name, the greater the chances of a cool show. Axiom #9 states that feelings of trepidation at sound check are often harbingers of that same cool gig. So Rhythm N Brews in Chattanooga is delivering a double dose of axiomatic data. The club is dark and cavernous, on a recently gentrified downtown street that’s eerily deserted. It’s a Sunday evening. It’s very quiet.
We meet the Bohannans, brothers Marty and Matt, drummer Jeremy, Josh the bass man. They are regular guys, super nice, and they’ve set everything up for us, including loaning us their great gear. Paul L is reunited with a Fender Deluxe Reverb with working tremelo, and couldn’t be happier. The soundman Doug gets the best onstage sound we’ve had in a long time, dialed up in about 5 minutes. We’re good to go.We walk to the riverfront and cross the Tennessee River on a half mile wide pedestrian bridge, largest in the U.S., as dusk yields to darkness. A four level riverboat, looking like an old Queen minus the rear paddlewheel, is the picture of slow gentility passing beneath us far below on the black still water, its white clothed dining tables lit by glowing lamps. Civilization. We stroll the bridge to the other side, come back on the highway bridge.
We’re rolling on a handsome and very wide interstate, I-75 to be exact, connecting Atlanta and Chattanooga. Rob’s cell phone can go online, and so: as we slice through densely wooded hills and ridges, Rob finds the Starbucks locater website and dials in Acworth, Georgia. And lo–tucked into these rural hills are not your naïve imaginings of banjo pickers on lonely cabin porches in grassy clearings, but rather 53, yes, 53 Starbucks within a 20 mile range. This is mindboggling. Fifty three Starbucks in a small patch of rural South Carolina. We’re far down this road to the future. There are wonders to be seen in the palm of your hand.
Rob has located a Starbucks. We’re exiting for Cartersville. At 605 Main Street, we are promised a Starbucks. We stop at the access road. In every direction are tall pines. Surely we will see the maiden Hiawatha treading a cool shaded trail. No. There’s a fresh red dirt gash in forest slope, and a pastel gas center. With a very long line.
Zig is a very cool guy, grizzled, sharp, and tall enough to see the big picture, the forest and the trees. His 10 acre spread of trees and permanently parked RV’s is set up for FES-TAA-VULLL! He’s proud of his 1951 GMC bus, which logged millions of miles as a Greyhound, then in service of the Lord as band bus, with bunks and kitchen for gospel group The Singing Apostles. It still gets 13 miles to the gallon. A faded Jesus walking on the water is painted on the rear. Only four forward gears, the shifter connected by a single long rod running the length of the bus to the transmission in the back. To get reverse you put the bus in first gear, hit a solenoid switch, and shift into second, which has been electro-converted into reverse. Let us weep a moment for ingenious mechanical solutions that die with the 21st century. Good. That’s enough. Reader, weep no more.
For we are at Albino Skunk Fest, jacked up on Waffle House coffee and carbs, and good times are here. Zig and his mythical pal Toothbrush conjured this musical celebration about six years ago, and it’s really hit a stride. We pull into the hardening red mud parking area and hear powerful bluegrass harmonies wafting through the pines and the steamy but pleasant air. Down a meandering path through big bamboo stand passageways, and we’re in a little hollow. A laid back audience on lawn chairs on the grassy slope surrounding the wood stage is digging the banjo/fiddle/guitar virtuosity. We’re sandwiched between two newgrass bands, complete with drums and aggressive six string fretless bass. The fusion scales n the woodsy setting are jarring to our overly sensitive and luddite musical ears, but the energy and chops of these guys are undeniable, and the crowd loves it. And when the fiddle kicks the band into a I IV V standard, they own it.
Darkness. Pillows. A stumble to the bathroom. Digital clock on the little table between the Comfort Inn beds proclaims 10 a.m. Across the beige divide, Shawn slumbers, the enviable deep sleep of the good and kind man. Turn on CNN. The bailout is reaching agreement in Congress. There’s no agreement. Nancy Pelosi and Christopher Dodd are our best and brightest hope. In other words, we’re screwed. A knock on the door. Open the door. Jeez. It’s a bright and shiny Saturday morning in Greer, South Carolina. Rob W is blindingly backlit by pale blue sky and puffy clouds, a kudzu choked yard of an auto repair garage in the bg. Zoom to RW. “Waffle House?”
Salvation. As the TV pundits babble, Bill O’Reilly denounces CEO’s, George Will declares McCain unfit, and Obama sounds like young George W, hungry for fresh blood in Afghanistan, it’s hard to avoid the fact that madness is the order of the day. We’d quote Yeats, but HBO’s idiotic “Heroes” just did, so that noble vision of 2008 and beyond is cheapened beyond repair. Fulfilling its own dire millennial prophecy. And yet — Salvation is At Hand.
We’re flying U.S. Airways to Charlotte. Dear reader, we’ve bagged enough on the state of air travel of late, so we’ll spare you. Okay, there were moments of unpleasantness, and inappropriate hubris by Airways staff at the gate. But we’ll leave it at that. We left hot sunshine and disembarked to a steady rain at Charlotte International Airport. Southern wetness feels good.
There’s no gas in Charlotte. We learn this at the airport in line at the Hertz counter. It seems like a joke at first. “Hope you brought your own gas!” says the jovial guy behind the counter. He must be kidding, right? Oh, no. The Ike-inspired gas shortage is causing some mild chaos. They give us our minivan with 5/8 of a tank, the amount left over by the last rental driver. He left 5/8 of a tank and some smoky smells covered over with the toxic perfumed air “freshener” applied by the Hertz people. Hertz? Yes, it does. The KIA mini-van is silvery gray and kind, with an innovative rear seat system that lets you make the seats disappear. Watch out, Ford and GM. You’re going to be in trouble some day if these Asian carmakers keep coming up with cool stuff like this.
The gas shortage is covering the southern states like kudzu. We see long lines of cars at every Charlotte gas station, except for the stations that are shut down. We hear that that the pipeline from Houston is drained dry, and that gas is on the way, at 3 miles per hour through the evacuated pipe. Does this mean that all gas, no matter the brand name, is from one source? We return to play at the friendly and hip Evening Muse in Charlotte. Joe, the sound man and all around good guy, hooks us up with all the gear we need. A snare drum even makes it to the stage as we are about to start. The lovely Bowman sisters kick things off with their songs of intimate personal experiences. It’s raining outside. Some Charlotte folks tell us it’s badly needed. This region is out of water and out of gas.
We do a semi-mellow electric show to a small but very enthusiastic crowd. Paul L is very happy with the club’s Fender Champ. (Click here for a good recording of the concert, thanks to ace tapir Brian Hadella) The Carolinas are always kind to us Hawks. We pack up, chat with folks, drive off in the rain. A freight train is sitting on the tracks, and we sit on the road. That’s all right. It’s nice to be in the Carolina rain.
an opinion piece by Hawks guitarist Paul Lacques
Our new American Age is the ascendancy of warped rural values.What made us strong, what gave us soul, what defined us and defended us, went sour, and weird. All of us born after 1950 are defined by comfort, TV, and the safe and dazzling haven of the city and the suburb. We’ve traded life expectancy for life in the country.
My cousins in Bakersfield in the 60’s were super cowboys. They were on the tractor by age 12, and not the kind with air conditioned cabs and stereo systems, but the nasty old beasts that left you at the end of the 10 hour day with sunburned skin and dust in every pore.They were rodeo champions and pro football prospects. They played guitar well enough to master the lick from “Born On The Bayou.” They listened to Glen Campbell, and Barry Sadler’s “Ballad Of The Green Beret,” and this was the word of God.
“I beat up a Mexican this afternoon. On the canal.”Yes, they also were racists through and through. It was a deep family belief, like their belief in Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. It was a warrior’s creed, unquestioned. Racism defined the cousins–along with allegiance to Dodge trucks and the Super Bee, quail hunting, the spring roundup, early and faithful marriage, and lots of babies. And country music.
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