“Well it’s alright and comin’ on, we gotta get right back to where we started from!” I’m lying here with the guitar cases and merchandise boxes trying to get some beauty rest, but disco music keeps pumping out of the media room (okay, they’d never call it that, it’s just a den with books, records, a big old Sony TV, couch). The kids are watching the 1977 movie Slapshot where Paul Newman in a leather leisure suit and a trio of hockey thugs wearing scotch-taped glasses smash opponents on the ice and convince themselves the future looks bright in shabby hotel rooms – I get the feeling this is some weird pre-tour ritual. I start to drift off and then here comes that song again. I swear the lady is even clapping along now!
Sunday late afternoon
The drive to DC was a breeze. Man, that Buick LeSabre the guy is so proud of is one smooth ride. Much cooler than the soccer mom-minivan they used to travel in. What’s happening to these two? I hope they aren’t getting too good for yours truly. I’d hate to be cast aside for a leather Louis Vuitton number, but given the budget concerns talk in the car (“if we really push the merchandise on this trip, we can put down the deposit on the van we need to rent for Europe and there’ll be just enough left to pay the property taxes…oh shit, we better get an oil delivery before we leave…that’s $360?”) I don’t see that happening any time soon.
Wow this hotel is deluxe. I didn’t know it would be like this – pretty fancy – but I heard the lady talking about Hotwire and how it’s easy to score nice business travel hotels on weekend nights especially. The show at the Hamilton in DC was a success. The pair played a short set and then talked to a whole lot of people at the merch table. Ian Hunter & The Rant Band were in fine form, in spite of it being a sitting down dining kind of club, they rocked and there was a crowd down in front of the stage. Getting in and out of this place was a little like being on a CIA mission, lots of pressing codes to open doors, winding around corridors and waiting for barricades to go up and down. It’s like that in DC they say – every building feels like Watergate.
We’ve been hurtling down I-95 all day (when we’re not crawling along in traffic). The man and lady had their first road food experience apparently, playing it safe with “Panera”. Now we’re passing this monolith on the side of the interstate, called Carolina Crossroads. The lady gets all excited, says her brother told her about the brother of Dolly Parton who rooked the local government into funding his dream theater, and then used up all the money on himself. The place sits on its own in the Carolina wilderness. A shudder goes through the car – it’s like a warning to these show biz folk – keep your dreams realistic? Don’t try to build another Branson? If you build it they probably won’t come? Be thankful you have a job for this week…anyway, it means something, I’m not sure what, but it’s a heckuva story!
Post-show at their friend Alison’s house, the pair creep around trying to eat a leftover Papa John’s cookie without crunching too loud. They’re still coming down from an epic rock show in Durham. Seems they played this place before (pre-yours truly) and it has a great big sound, no seats. Tonight it was full and the people were cheering. They saw some old friends, Carolina rock royalty filled the room, and Ian brought them up to sing on the encore All The Young Dudes. I sat to the side of the stage beaming with pride, feeling like a Ranter myself. It doesn’t get better than this.
Wednesday involved a stop at Lexington Barbq, where the waitress insisted the man was a singer with a famous British rock group, but she couldn’t put her finger on who. Then when the lady was in the rest room, she did put her finger on… Who. The Who, she kept saying, you’re the singer with The Who. The more the man shook his head “no, not me, wish I was!” the quicker the owner rushed over wanting to give the pair everything on the menu for free and a tour of the squadron of smokers out back.
They were too in a rush to get to sound check in Charlotte – a big old theater with chairs set up, not like Durham. It was hard to follow Durham, and almost as penance for the incredible barbq in Lexington, they ate crappy pasta in a bar across from the venue with the sound of trivia night siphoning knowledge from their brains as they ate. Ian brought them up to sing again. The hotel was crappy and now we’re drinking espresso in a nice food market in downtown Charlotte.
Your humble bag is here to tell you, I love Atlanta. From hanging out with Shawn and Ruth in Decatur, eating oysters at musician pal Gentleman Jesse’s awesome restaurant Kimball House, to a mind-boggling rock show at Variety Playhouse full of friends from the past and future, this bag is in hog heaven. It’s times like these I think back to the Walmart and wish some of those totes and cases could see me now, rubbing elbows with the Georgia Satellites, and even what appear to be a few groupies from another era who perch around the dressing room in velvet and lace like an infomercial for Stevie Nicks clothing line. Living the dream!
Saturday on the road
All afternoon we go up and down the Georgia hills and then they turn into the Alabama hills just after the lady shouts “Summerville! Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens!” I’m not sure what to expect of Alabama, but they say Huntsville where the guy has his own gig tonight, is full of rocket scientists – for real. The lady has fond memories of shows in a punk club there back in the day. There are some big fans of the guy here who wanted to put him on in a brewery, and he’s asking the lady if she’ll play a few with him. It’s different from when they do their thing together, her being his guest, but it’s still them.
Later that night
The brewery really was filled with rocket scientists. And young people, adorable girls who did interpretive dances to Whole Wide World that involved reaching out their arms to search and then hugging each other and jumping up and down for the chorus. So cute! That’s not just the Kolsch talking. The whole room was buzzing and the lady got to play a few too which felt great not weird like she worried it might. I hung out by the merch table and they were selling albums and the guy’s paintings by the dozens. Who knew Huntsville was so hip?
On our way to Nashville. The last Ian Hunter show for a while, at a fancy new winery in town. I never knew they grew grapes in Tennessee? But if Alabama can craft beer…I’m looking forward to sampling their Pinot George Jones or what have you. There’s a buzz in the car here on I-65, it’s that Music City excitement. The lady remembers how even Springsteen was nervous playing Nashville, or said he was. I lean back in my spot next to the Gibson who says she was born here. I’m just hoping there’s time for a stop at those American Pickers’ store.
Whoa that went well. The pair did their thing and felt happy about the show, seeing friends, selling records and even meeting that super-nice bass player from Cheap Trick! Ian brought them up one last time to sing on the encore, warm smiles and hugs all around from the boys in the band and he even gave me a nice thumbs up when they were loading out. Then it was hair cuts for the pair from the lady’s old favorite haircutter in town and coffee with Joy who was a friend from Nashville days. Nashville days – the lady talks about feeling sad and regretful last time she was here, but this time it’s all okay, she feels lucky to have had her time living there years back, no regrets! We even drove by her old house, and she texted her daughter a picture, wondering how it got so small and what kind of hillbillies were living in the place now?
Headed east away from the sun, towards an Applebee’s and home. It’s been swell but I got some woodshedding to do before…Europe next week.