Monday, April 18, 2016

They DO make good music like they used to!

     I'm one of those old folks that complains about pop-music, shaking my head in dismay, sadly proclaiming, "They don't make good music anymore." I was in college during the early 70s and back then, music was great. But I'm going to say this upfront. This past weekend I heard music that did wonders for my old soul.  I'm admitting here publicly, I WAS WRONG. They DO make good music like they used to.

     Do you know "Jerry Douglas" the great, if not the greatest lap steel guitar player? Click on his name, it will take you to a Wikipedia info page about him. You've probably heard him play in the last 40 or so years somewhere, you just just didn't realize it. Here's a photo I took this past weekend of Jerry (far right) playing with the Earls of Leicester. He does alot of solo stuff, too.

     Everytime I hear a guitar I like, seems like Jerry Douglas' name is on it. So when a casual Internet search about Douglas led me to his upcoming April performance at the 29th annual Old Settler's Folk Festival, I pre-paid $230 to hear him and others for the 4-day event. I pre-paid another $60 to get a ticket for a limited number of car campers for four days. I've lived only 200 miles from Austin for the past 25 years, but I hadn't realized that this music festival was one of Texas' signature events. The festival includes acoustic jazz and blues, bluegrass, local favorites, and award-winning artists from around the world.

     I've never spent more than $30 to hear live musicians, so this event was a purposeful "out of my comfort zone" event. I had read somewhere that seniors should do more "out of comfort zone" activities to keep their minds alert.

     The festival started at 4 PM on Thursday so I arrived early at 1 PM to find a good "first come, first served" camping spot. Imagine my surprise when I arrived ready to pick and choose a prime spot, and saw this sea of RVs, tents, and trailers. There were orange painted lines for "no-parking zones" five-feet from the road so people could walk alongside busy traffic coming/going constantly, including the many school buses that transported folks to/fro band events and satellite parking lots. Behind those orange lines, there were no rules.

     I'm not a safety Marshall, but the packed vehicles and tents looked like a hazard to me. Can you imagine if someone in the center needed an emergency exit?

     I asked one RV'er what time he arrived (thinking maybe 6 AM?), and he said "Last week". He had rented a huge RV for this occasion, paid the week's camping fee, and continued to go to work in Austin. He said lots of folks did that every year. Wow I said silently under my breath, what had I gotten myself into? Luck was on my side. I found a nearly-level spot near the exit. I'm positively sure it was the last almost-level spot available.

     Near the front door of my van was this badly leaking spigot, and in the distance I heard a goat bleating. I followed one of these 100-foot hoses to a splitter with three more 100-foot extensions, one of them dripping into a water bucket for a goat inside a wire fence (Billy Goat with horns, resident goat I was told later), and to several make-shift outdoor kitchens and outdoor showers. Guess I won't turn the leaky spigot off to conserve water . . . .

      I read in the registration hand-out that folks were encouraged to bring splitters and 100-foot water hoses and electrical cords to share the limited number of outlets and spigots. Okey-dokey.

     There were many creative vehicles and trailers and vans, too. I met and talked with other van-campers including a gasoline ProMaster couple from California. The crowd was primarily Texan, but perhaps 25 percent were from other states.

This school bus got my "grand prize" for unique.

The owner showed me his tailgate. It's a grill.

This bike got my vote for most unique bicycle.

     I was kinda sorta getting the hang of being "out of my comfort zone". But, then I noticed a huge handpainted sign proclaiming "Quiet hours, 6 AM to Noon". Huh? I didn't even bring box wine to keep me awake until 10 PM, uh-oh. Was this festival a bunch of drunks who wanted quiet time during their hang-overs? Answer is "no", keep on reading . . . . 

     There were a surprising number of young parents with young kids. I had absolutely no complaints about any of the kids' behavior, amazing eh? In fact, maybe I've grown too cynical, but I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of kids playing like kids used to play 50 years ago . . . . . playing with hula hoops . . . .

and climbing trees, ignoring the safety officers' repeated warnings to stay out of the trees.

     Now for the good part, the music! It included alot of fiddlers plus sax, trumpet, flute, and the usual guitars and banjos and drums of course. There were two outside amphitheater-type settings on Friday and Saturday where thousands of folks brought lawn chairs . . . . . 

. . . . and there was a wood-structure pavilion at the campground where lawn chairs were prohibited simply because everyone wanted to be close to the band and dance.

     This guy was one of many who just danced for himself everywhere.

     I dislike crowds, but I have to admit, everyone at the festival was super friendly and talkative, and I loved the crowds! Especially when we were all dancing, singing, clapping, swaying, dancing the bunny-hop around the campground to Shinyribs and tapping toes non-stop. I've done my coyote howl in the privacy of my backyard, but the folks here at this festival taught me to break out of my private shell and howl with the best of them! I was howling and loving it!

     If you want to understand my enthusiasm for this festival, I've included a youtube video of each of my favorite bands. There were 32 bands all-together during the 4-day festival! And if you ever tire of the musical simplicity and inane lyrics of today's pop music, these musicians will cleanse your palate.

   The Brothers Comatose, described as punk bluegrass.

   Band of Heathens, described as creating a roots-rock masterpiece.

  The Accidentals, described in the schedule as "Playing 12 instruments between them, they will lighten your step and awaken your mind."

   The Jitterbug Vipers, one of my favorites because I really wanted to learn how to do the Swing and Jitterbug with the folks who were dancing! Described as effervescent glee, and that's a guarantee you'll be smiling and bopping.

    Lonesome River Band, a blend of country and progressive bluegrass.

    Jerry Douglas and the Earls of Leicester "gives listeners a bat-outta-hell joyride in a vintage car."

     The Del McCoury Band, fun to watch and hear.

    The Hillbenders is fiddle-free but they're still spectacular.

    HoneyHoney seems suspiciously so-so, but wow, she's another Linda Ronstadt.

    Green River Ordinance serves up bonfire music and front porch fun!

    The Deer is "lyrical, experiential and magnetic."

     Della Mae brings a new groove to folk and bluegrass sound.

     And my absolute very best favorite band was Shinyribs. The link I've given you here is his entire performance from last year. This time around, I think I'll watch this link tonight with a glass of Cabernet :)

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Spring Break along Texas' Gulf Coast and Louisiana's Atchafalaya Basin

     A road trip will cure cabin-fever and the winter blahs, so I gave myself a "Spring Break" and packed La Lair for a 10-day excursion. My modus operandi is to avoid major roads and find the slow less-traveled roads. How slow?  Here's the final road trip numbers  . . .

     Most folks who drive on I-10 from Houston to New Orleans might think the Gulf Coast is a boring Who's Who list of energy companies.  Just about every public and private and international energy-related company has some representation here.

     But millions of migratory and resident birds don't seem intimidated by all the pipelines and rigs and boats. Soon, these White Pelicans will arrive in Canada and Montana and North Dakota to raise another family and then return in October.

       I wasn't following GPS instructions nor a roadmap when I accidentally found myself approaching the Lynchburg Ferry. This ferry, since 1822, crosses the Houston shipping canal.

     The further south I drove, the more magnificent the huge trees, pecans and oaks. You'd think all the Gulf Coast hurricanes and floods and droughts would have decimated these old trees, but they're aging gracefully.

     I spent two nights in a large driveway of Boondockers Billy Bob and his wife who live about ten miles from Brazoria, Texas. Across the street and next to their house were more magnificent trees.

     On a 10-mile bike ride from Billy Bob's place to downtown Brazoria, I noticed nearly every home has at least one huge beautiful old tree in their front yard.  This home had straight and crooked old trees, plus a flock of beautiful chickens.

     During my bike ride, I saw this woman on a bicycle leading two horses. Not many horsewomen can do this!

     Lavern told me she was putting her horses out to pasture for the day, and would be back later to get them.  We exchanged our horsewoman tales, of course. The stories usually include at least one broken bone or cracked rib.

     Lavern rode with me to show me the least congested roads to Brazoria's Civic Center where four traditional bluegrass bands were performing. They were good bands, but if you're gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddler in the band. Was disappointed none of the bands included a fiddler.

     The Civic Center includes a room dedicated to Doctor Sophie, showcasing her medical office which resembled a natural history museum.  Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1846, she was quite a character in Brazoria, Texas and elsewhere. Click here for her story.  I guarantee you'll be amazed and amused.

     Continuing east pass the colorful village of Surfside Beach, there's a scenic drive on the 40-mile Bluewater Highway which ends at Galveston. Dodging Galveston's human crowds on its scenic miles-long seawall isn't my thing. But who can resist enjoying the seagulls; just toss them food for cheap entertainment! 

Doesn't matter if you're a big or little kid, Black or white, rich or poor, seagulls entertain everyone equally! I like the photo below taken on the ferry from Galveston to Bolivar Peninsula; Papa's pants are falling off and the child's Mama is lovingly attentive.

     I'm pretty good at finding unofficial roads like this levee road. Hint, it's near Port Arthur, Texas.

     Three or four miles later on this lonely secret road, a ship passed by! optical illusion of course, but still, a very close passing.

          Far far away from civilization, I parked La Lair and walked barefoot along the beach . . . . it's a quiet, gentle peaceful beach in comparison to the Atlantic and Pacific beaches.

     The fishing boats bobb in the Gulf's gentle swells  . . . . . almost makes one forget about devastating hurricanes.

     The most awesome find was this free boondocking spot in Texas. See the birder with his zoom lens on the left? His partner is on the beach in the middle-right, and their RV and towed-vehicle with a kayak on the roof-rack is to the far right. The view is the Intracoastal Waterway where thousands of migratory birds mingle with resident birds. These RV'ers had this place to themselves, because no one realized there was access back there.

     If you want to boondock here, email me and I'll divulge the coordinates if you promise not to publish its whereabouts.

        In Louisiana, I used Ultimate Campgrounds to find a unique camping spot at Calcasieu Parish along the Intracoastal Waterway. Here's a view of one of the many barges going by, from inside my van.

     This beautiful tugboat has a proud Louisiana owner!

     I pulled over and used this armored truck as "bait" on a pontoon bridge from a little village called Butte La Rose. Figured if he could make it, I could too! I think I'm 9.4 feet high.

     Butte La Rose has a friendly roadside park for RV'ers, thanks again to Ultimate Campgrounds' database downloaded on my GPS. It's worked well for me when I really need to find a campground NOW!

     I eventually met up with kayaking comrades at Lake Fausse Pointe State Park. We met under crazy circumstances; Lynn and David pulled into the adjacent parking lot and accidentally got hung-up on a landscape stump. After successfully using a jack to get off the stump, they then got stuck in the muck! Sometimes bad things happen to good folks. Lots of white knights came to their rescue.

     A good time was had by all. Most of the campers at this campground were super-friendly native-Louisianians. Really enjoy listening to their speech cadence, too.

     In the photo below, I'm the little ski paddler in the rear. I don't paddle in alligator country without a group; there's safety in numbers.

     I saw three little alligators about half as long as my ski (yellow fiberglass ski below). David, the paddler across from me, paddles a high-tech inflatable kayak. But I suspect a large alligator could puncture his kayak just as well as it could snap my ski in half. I took a photo of an alligator, but it's the same color as the water, so it doesn't show well.

     Coming up next, another Texas road trip to hear a lot of bands with fiddlers! Stay tuned :)