June 28. At the Wallers in Marin we wake to the news that Senator Robert Carlyle Byrd, D-WVA, passed away at three in the morning. We’d been getting texts from friends that he was in the hospital. As we packed up to head for Seattle, NPR emailed us, and Rob did an interview about our song “Byrd From West Virginia.” Another article about the song showed up on the NPR webpage. We’re proud to be part of remembering this larger than life man from a time and place that feels long past. Pre-emptive war does not have a place in America’s finer values and beliefs.
MORNING BREAKFAST IN NEWMAN. HEAT PERSISTS ON DRIVE TO MARIN. FAMILY AND EARTHEN PEOPLE AT RANCHO NICASIO. DAVE ZIRBEL THROWS DOWN. A SURPRISING INCIDENT. HUNTING ACCIDENT. LATE NIGHT GATHERING. REMARKABLE ICE CREAM.
Morning comes gently to the town of Newman one week before the 4th of July. You can tell right away it’s going to be a hot one but it’s not quite here yet. RW leads the band in morning yoga. Ashtanga vinyasas and mild inversions are the order of the day as the departed moon begins to cycle back from the triple potency of solstice, fullness, and eclipse. The stars are with us. We stroll one street and two doors down to Ferris and Dave’s for another kind and home-cooked meal. Ferris regales us while baking a delicious egg and cheese dish along with biscuits and homemade salsa. We sample sip our hosts’ margaritas but wolf down watermelon and the eggs and biscuits. Oh goodness, we are lucky men. We’re seated around a grand piano that’s been transformed into a dining table with a glass top and lights down in the innards. Their whole house has a theatrical flair. We listen to an original LP version of “Sweethearts of the Rodeo” that Dave has had since the 70s.
Departure and farewell come too soon for the Hawks and hosts. We make our way down T Street in the coming valley heat.
The heat dogs us up the 5 and over to and through the East Bay and across the Richmond Bridge to Marin. We wind through Old California(o), narrow road in pastured valley, around a lonely bend and we’re arrived, on time 3 p.m., at Rancho Nicasio. This venerable and venerated music hall and its hilly surroundings have an intoxicating quality. You know you won’t want to leave this place.
And it’s hot. We load in. Ted our sound man and staunch ally and defender greets us and we him, and master pedal steeler Dave Zirbel and lovely Jeanine walk in and it’s a love fest sound check. We are home away from home.
The show is just great. Zirbel’s steel soars, our harmonies are at a peak, many Wallers and Lacqueses salt and pepper the earthen crowd, Marin earth mamas and mushroom cowboys and carpenters swirl on the dance floor or soak it all in. We jam way out on “Humboldt”, and close it out with “Good And Foolish Times,” which feels like a sweet closer till-next-time these days. Our friends want more and we re-goodbye with “Motorcycle Mama” and St. Van Zandt’s “Heavenly Houseboat Blues.”
We linger long in the sweet and lingering twilight, catching up on family lore and conspiracy on the wide Nicasio lawn. Peter Lacques is running for a spot on the Marin County water commission (Water Board?), with a plan for subsidizing home graywater systems instead of building a massive desalinization plant. We support him with our every fiber and will.
Rob W, inspired by the evening and earth’s spiritual bounty, suggests we stop in Fairfax at Fairfax Scoop. We gladly wait in the line snaking out the door and down smalltown street, and are more than rewarded with what must be among the finest ice creams on earth. Honey Lavender Vanilla with the flowers plucked from nearby Mt. Tam, Lagunitas Rasberry Sorbet, Vegan Chocolate.
We follow the iPhone directions to the West Side Theater in Newman, but not before they nearly have us lost. There needs to be a word for when you rely on your “smart” phone rather than your brain and five senses and you nearly miss something right in front of you. Or you nearly get hit by a car. On a huge scale this is what’s happening in our culture. If it doesn’t show up in our FB news feed we don’t see it, even if it’s as giant 1920’s art deco theater right in front of us. iSensemnesia?
It’s good to be back in Newman. The friendly and knowledgeable sound man and lead volunteer Dave welcomes us back. It is cool and dark in the old movie house, the velvet walls dampening the echoes in the big hall. We set up and and run through some tunes, dialing in the highs and lows. We even go so far as to wheel a chuck wagon on stage to add some atmosphere. They tell us it’s the original chuck wagon used in the Purina commercials and we believe them. Dave’s wife Ferris then prepares us a wonderful meal of shrimp pasta salad and cheesy toastwiches. We meet Mary the local Dairy Princess and the charming Lorna who tends the finest garden in town. Everyone is warm and welcoming and we feel so well taken care of. After dinner they take us back to the eerie little band house we stayed in last time. We find our note in the guestbook from February 2007, two full children ago for RW. Seems like a lifetime.
The show goes great. We feel like old school entertainers, telling stories and singing songs to a small but wiry crowd. Some old friends roll down from the Sierras to see us and it all feels grand. We’ve been touring California for a while now and we’ve got friends all over this great state. We hang for a while drinking cranberry margaritas with our new friends.
Oh, yeah. It’s summer. And the Hawks are Yukoning the 5 north. Like the tides and the playoffs, it’s something you can count on.
It’s been a long SoCal winter and spring, with late rains and clouds and bright green grass on the hills persisting into May. If this is climate change, the world’s loss is Los Angeles’s gain. But it’s June 25, so let’s get on with it. The longest day has come and gone, and we feel real heat for the first time at the TA/Starbucks offramp at the foot of the Grapevine, just south of the giant Famous Footwear warehouse freshly scarring the fertile farmland next to the interstate.
This service center is jumping. The Starbucks is electric with energy, as America’s new melting pot pours itself into the artfully air-conditioned urban zone. Most of these well fed pilgrims order giant frothy frapppucccinos. Rob orders his customary espresso and gets away with his free-soy-milk-request-at-the-very-end scam, first victory in many months of trying. Perhaps the barista is giddy with the turn-away crowd, and charging 50 cents in the midst of such entrepreneurial splendor would be petty, and might break the magic spell.
America’s got gas. We’re hanging in there at three dollars a gallon, mortgage rates are at a historical low, and the big bulbous SUVs and trucks are still rolling. Are we rich? Are we poor? Are we doomed? Will we muddle through? At TA, we opt for optimism.
The corn is high in the low central valley. As high as an elephant’s eye by the Fourth of July. The alfalfa is rich green, sheep graze by the canals, tin roof sheds house equipment for hard laborers, sweet red roadside onions are for sale, and orchards are holding their own against the onslaught of instant suburbias stopped frozen in their crappy soft pine and drywall tracks. For the moment, we’ve been saved from ourselves, but can we save ourselves? Paul Krugman doesn’t think so, the crabby cynic.
But who cares? We come to rock. We come to rock Fresno. “Fres-yes,” Paul M re-christens the flat sprawl, home of the western region IRS and William Saroyan, who left his fortune to a foundation dedicated to preserving the obsessive minutiae of his life, cutting his children off without a dime. It’s a new town, a town on the margins, the kind of town where our little band tends to thrive. We’re feeling the irrational optimism as we exit the 5 and let Rob’s iPhone® guide us to the house of Evelyn.
May we digress, dear reader? It’s been a long time between blogs, which we’ll explain later,* and there’s a lot on our minds. The iPhone, for example. It’s not merely rotting our souls. It is fulfilling the prophecy of The Matrix, which will be noted by historians who survive this epoch as the most prophetic work of art since Revelations or Yeats’ The Second Coming. Internet connectivity has siphoned our most vital energy, our love and dreams, and all our information. Facebook and Google know everything you are doing online, and are storing your history, selling it to the highest bidder, and saving it for unknown and unimagined purposes over the event horizon.
But we digress indeed. In the meantime we’ve exited the secondary freeway deep into Fresno and out into exurbia nova, traversed tidy tracts, and arrived at the 1971 stucco home of Evelyn Stewart, mom of Randall Stewart of Randall and Mona, best friends of Hawks and budding duprass. We cross the wide and tidy lawn, and get the big hug from Evelyn, who wears her pure heart on her sleeve and has prepared a feast and spare bedrooms for us. Life is good.
We dig into a backyard feast, drink White Russians and tequila, and talk long into the afternoon with these old friends, caravan at sunset through old Fresno neighborhoods to Audie’s, in the hip Tower section. Audie’s is big, cool, like an old roadhouse with a warehouse type ceiling betraying its more recent origin. Audie himself is a generous proprietor, offers us the run of top shelf at the long bar. Delicious bacon cheeseburgers tended by a Vietnam vet are smoking on the sidewalk grill outside, and all is mellow. Maybe we’ll play at 10, maybe 11, as a local band hits the stage. We take a walk through early 1900’s houses in museum quality condition. Maybe the blazing heat is good for the wood. The heat of early darkness is delicious, a well earned sensation.
We play two sets at Audie’s, rock it pretty good, the crowd digs it, the sound man is great, and we leave the club forgetting to get paid. Paul M drives back to the club with Randall in his purring midlife Miata. Audie: “I knew you’d be back.” Randall, Mona, and Paul L manage to make it to the three a.m. partial eclipse of the strawberry moon. The shadow is a bit sinister, turning the Man into a Sad And Haunted Little Boy.
June 26. Next morning, a heroic baked Eggs Evelyn breakfast with conversation, and we hit the road. Oh, yes, it’s hot. We drive west on 140, Newman bound. It’s been a wet year and all is still lush in the largest farmland on planet earth. Fallow fields wild with grass, temporary wet marshland just a few months ago. Gustine. Silos. Rail crossing. Fallow field, alfalfa field, fallow, alfalfa, alfalfa, corn, fallowfallowcorncorn. Black cows black against yellow grass grazing. The good stuff is irrigated for cutting and baling on the other side of the highway.
*Life has pre-empted blogs for some time, dear reader. RW is neck deep in parenting. Paul L and Victoria have purchased, liberated from stucco (with the generous and mighty Shawn N wielding the hammer of stucco destruction), and are restoring a 1924 bungalow in the upper hills of upper Highland Park. Not a lot of touring, but some grand local shows which go duly unrecorded.