Author: Evans, Bill

Charlotte, MI to Hattiesburg, MS Is Only 936 Mile
 

June is an intense month for a professional bluegrass musician. Many of us spend more days away from home than with loved ones this time of year and when we are home, we try to squeeze a week’s worth of chores, bill paying and family time into the space of just two or three days before heading for the airport once again.

California and West Coast-based musicians spend more time in airplanes than our Eastern counterparts for a simple reason: most of the work is east, whether it be in Colorado, Texas or a show or workshop that takes us all the way to Virginia, Tennessee or Massachusetts.

Over the years, I’ve grown to prefer a cross country flight, even if it takes most of a day, to the twenty-four hour or longer drives that I used to be a part of when I lived in Owensboro, Kentucky and played banjo with Dry Branch Fire Squad in the mid-1990’s (and, as an historical note, I played banjo with the band at the CBA Father’s Day Festival in the infamous mud fest year!).

Playing two festivals on back-to-back days, with an all night drive in between, was always difficult but that occasional weekend with three (count ‘em, three!) back-to-back festival appearances with two all night drives in between was just about impossible. In those days, we traveled in a high top van with skinny bunks to get from part of the country to another. I preferred to sleep on the ground floor, across one of the two back deck seats, seat belted tightly in, rather than on one of those bunks, which were too high for my taste.

More often than not, I choose to sit up in the passenger seat, next to whoever was behind the wheel, helping the driver to stay awake before sometimes taking the wheel myself around 4 a.m. That driver was usually Ron Thomason. We had a rule in the Dry Branch van that if you were too tired to drive, then you either turned the driving over to someone else or you parked it and we all slept until someone felt awake enough to get us down the road for a few more hours. Most of the time, we were able to keep going - someone was always ready to drive at least for a little while, no matter what the hour.

Among the circles of musicians that I hung out with in those days, one’s ability to drive for long periods of time, especially overnight, was an admired trait which, much like being a good picker or harmony singer, added to one’s overall professional resume. Ron always spoke with deep respect for George Shuffler’s driving abilities and I earned a few points myself when I drove all the way from Virginia to Connecticut on one overnight drive between the Graves Mountain and Strawberry Park festivals.

My most memorable road story involves the Boys From Indiana. Dry Branch played a festival in Charlotte, Michigan on a June Friday and as we were leaving the parking lot, I heard the Boys from Indiana, who were playing just after us on the Charlotte festival stage. We had a killer overnight drive ahead, as we were booked to play Bertie Sullivan’s festival in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on Saturday. Over 900 miles of traveling was ahead for us that night and into the next day.
We all pulled shifts as we drove south through the night, stopping only for gas and coffee before arriving at our southern Mississippi hotel at about noon. Luckily, we were able to catch a few hours of sleep before heading out to the festival to play our first afternoon set. Even just three hours of sleep can make a huge difference in terms of making it through the next day’s shows, and this was a gift that seemed heaven sent after such a long drive.

Our first set was scheduled late in the afternoon, at around 4 p.m., to accommodate our travel schedule. When we pulled into the campground and arrived in the backstage area, who do you think was on stage? You guessed it: the Boys from Indiana, who were just finishing up their first set.

Now, that’s awesome. And that’s bluegrass.
 
Posted:  6/24/2011



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