The Hawks share an exuberant philosophy about a travel day: if you’ve got 8 hours to get from Portland to Arcata, use it up, carpe diem and throttle it for all it’s worth. A reasonably early start from the downtown Portland Red Lion turned a bit ugly as the 5 South onramp proved elusive. Some good local advice: “look for freeway signs.”
The advice proved priceless, and within 20 minutes we were racing south. Still on schedule. Oregon is looking mighty good in this wet and rainy June. More green fields, snow capped distant volcanoes, puffy clouds, and a blue sky that is heightened to lurid cinemascope by the illegally tinted windows of our beloved Bomb Squad Suburban. We stopped in Eugene seeking a now-legendary breakfast place from last year’s tour. We had no address, no name, just a haunting group memory of eggs and espresso last August. We wandered the small streets of Eugene, overgrown yards and affordable houses, leisure and muddy boots on porches, guided by a group homing system that moved infallibly towards our elusive eatery. South and east, south and east, turn here, cross the tracks, pass the university, pass the 7-11 again, until voila! Studio Café! That’s what it’s called, at Agate and 19th street in view of evergreen covered slopes at the edge of town. We are most pleased!
Studio Café is closed. We missed it by 15 minutes. Paul M almost talked a sympathetic staff into re-opening, pulling out all the charm short of mentioning his stint in Strawberry Alarm Clock. We were directed to nearby Glenwood Café (4 Stars for food, 3 stars for service, 2 1/2 stars for atmosphere, big kudos for affordability, Hawks Breakfast Quality Control Committee). We spotted a biblical quotation on the back of the menu so this time Paul M led us in a hands held, heads bowed prayer, giving thanks and praise. This one didn’t feel right to the electric guitar players in the band. Rick had already started in on his food, and Paul L realized that he’s only receptive to religion when he’s mocking it. The sincerety of Paul M’s blessing threw him off.Now the Hawks travel exuberance turned a little dark. We were barely on schedule for our 11 p.m. downbeat in Arcata. At Grant’s Pass we headed west to the Oregon Coast on two lane twisting Highway 199, through absolutely stunning rainforest, and big redwoods crowding the highway shoulders, the Smith River gathering force from countless streams dropping into its narrow channel below our plucky highway. This is the everpresent moistness of the rainforest, northern style, fog banks and dripping branches.
A middle of nowhere piss stop, roadside in the forest shadow, turned into a chanting leaping foray through giant ferns and slumbering long felled redwood carcasses, fog and dripping water, dells and glens, no echoes, vertical space is filled with lumber and green, no sky above the canopy.Which cost us another half hour, and now we’re officially at risk of missing downbeat. Rick Shea and Paul M came through like the seasoned roadsters they are, driving fast and steady through twists and turns, downhill slalom to the Pacific Ocean, which never looked better, forlorn orange band on the flat horizon under a steel gray wall of fog, orange on the breaking waves, the sun is gone.
We crossed the Humboldt county line with a ceremonial honk, quickly swallowed by the brooding fog and dark trees.Night yielded very slowly to the mighty Summer Solstice long light, but it was dark as we hit Arcata and circled the square filled with the new generation of bearded wanderers, large backpacks on their stout frames, faithful dogs at their heels, lurking in the shadows of a central park dominated mysteriously by a statue of William McKinley. Two neo hippies talked longingly to a local girl before she peeled away gently from the conversation, leaving them to their rootless longing. The song remains the same,
The Alibi is one of four 1940’s-50’s seedy bars clumped together by the liquor store, derelicition in a convenient zone on the square. Load-in is through the back down a long hallway. This is indeed a shotgun bar, the longest this band has ever seen. Rough looking townies and gentler Humboldt State students chug beers at the long bar, and music booker/lumberjack/pirate radio DJ Ian and a kind waitress greet us. Here’s the rules: 5 pitchers of Olympia beer for the band, don’t try to trade up to Budweiser; anything on the menu is half price, as long as you don’t order combos over $10 or the fish and chicken baskets. There’s one thing that will stop a hasty band load-in in its tracks, and that’s food. Rob, Shawn, and Paul L ordered the tofu bowl with peanut sauce, and Rick and Paul M went with the portabello mushroom burgers. Delicious. Arcata is clearly a complex mixture of brawny bearded woodsman culture and collegiate appreciation for the finer things in life.
As we chow down, a big surprise for Paul L: through the shiny metal and tuck and roll entrance of the Alibi walks old pal Gregg Gold, who taught Paul the basics of bluegrass guitar in their UCLA freshman dorm, then formed a duo, Those Flatpicking Fools, spending 6 months in Europe with countless harrowing youthful scrapes, adventures, and pure blind luck. The Fools had a European agent and everything, were making a living touring Dutch folk clubs, considering a permanent expatriate life, when an encounter with a Colorado band settled in Copenhagen (a chilly wind blew that evening), with Danish wives, tobacco, and hashish, put a scare into the new arrivals. It was just too far from home. The Flatpicking Fools returned to California, vowing a yearly return to Europe, and of course never returned. (Paul now had show anxiety, because Gregg is a badass guitar picker.)At 11:15 p.m., right on time, Rick Shea hit the stage, back up in full electric regalia by Shawn, Paul M., and Paul L, the twin telecasters and the crack of the snare achieving a brittle punch on the hard concrete floor. Rick wisely stuck with his biker bar material, and the crowd whooped appreciatively, a few solo manly dancers with beers in each hand.
The manly dancers kept up their fiercely independent artistry as the Hawks took the stage. No monitors but the vocals cut through OK and we rocked through a set fueled by tofu and Olympia beer. This was a real bar crowd, and we could have done Skynyrd all night and they would have been just as pleased, nay, far more pleased. A near-jam band version of Humboldt closed the set down. Some local greenery found its way into a passed hat and, after prying Gregg Gold and Paul L from their further reminiscing, we were on our way. Our good friend Rick from Dabney House at Caltech and his father Charlie kindly offered a place to stay. Little did we know the 20 minute drive through the redwoods would land us at two cliffside cabins overlooking the untamed northwest Pacific shore. The nearly full moon lit the water and puffy clouds to near daylight status (we were in a low ambient light region, no city light pollution, like Deep Gap, North Carolina), and we laughed with wonder, standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff.