Author: Evans, Bill

Planes, Trains, Automobiles…and Even Bikes

This is the time of year when many musicians spend almost as much time inside an airplane or tour vehicle as they do at home. While I’m not out on the road as much as many of my bluegrass musician friends, I have traveled enough to see how the road itself can, in its own strange way, come to feel like a second home.

In this way, I imagine that musicians are not unlike truck and long distance bus drivers, airline pilots and maybe even train engineers. If you’re in any of these professions and you don’t like the rigors of travel, you might be in the wrong line of work.
Guitarist extraordinaire Jim Hurst was a long haul truck driver before moving to Nashville. Many years ago, Country Gentlemen bassist Bill Yates told me that he thought the ideal job would be to drive a bluegrass band around the country but not have to play! After he left the band, Bill became a Washington, D. C. area tour bus driver – and he loves his current job. Bluegrass guitarist/singer David Parmley repairs tour buses when he’s not out on the road and Sammy Shelor has been known to occasionally drive the Lonesome River Band bus for other artists when his own band has the weekend off.

In the 1960’s, Earl Scruggs piloted his own plane to get to show dates, as a back injury suffered in a car accident made bus travel increasingly difficult. A few years later, CBS television asked Earl if he would like to be a main character in a new series to be called “Petticoat Junction.” They wanted him to be the train engineer, guiding a big steam engine into the junction while picking his banjo at the opening of each show! Those television producers thought that it was natural to cast a banjo picker in the role of a train engineer.

In more recent years, the Bay Area bluegrass/jam band Hot Buttered Rum travels in a bus powered by vegetable oil and this mode of transportation has helped open the doors for their music. Last summer, the amazing cello player Ben Sollee, who has skirted the boundaries of bluegrass and old-time music with the Sparrow Quartet featuring Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck, toured across the United States by bicycle, with his cello, CDs and clothes attached to the rear of a specially outfitted extended bicycle.

And finally, not to be outdone by anyone, the great John Hartford used to walk miles and miles from one gig to the next, getting exercise by quickly pacing up and down his tour bus as it was moving down the road! I believe that if he could have found a way to do it, John would have gladly walked from one gig to the next, playing his fiddle as he went.

The lure of the road, the restless urge to travel and music making just seem to go together, no matter how you get to the gig!

All the best,
Bill Evans

Posted:  7/19/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email