Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Furthur/Back Porch Orchestra/Warren Haynes Band

I was able to catch the Furthur show on November 8 at the John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. This was the fifth show on their fall tour, the last time I was at JPJ it was to see the Dead in 2009. This is a nice arena because it's small, it's on a university campus, and I always like hanging in Charlottesville. As I've said before here, Furthur continues to improve as time goes on and this show was no disappointment. What was really special for me was the inclusion of Pink Floyd's "Time" (from Dark Side of the Moon) in the second set. It really blew my mind, or maybe it was the cookies and punch that I had in the parking lot before the show?  Whatever, by the "Time" they kicked into that song I was comfortably numb. They also did a couple of Dylan tunes ("Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues", "It's All Over Now Baby Blue") which are always fun.

I was in North Carolina for the weekend and my cousin took me to hear a local band called Back Porch Orchestra. Just four players (guitar, mandolin, bass, and singer) they were quite good, playing a mix of covers (Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty) and original songs. I'll have to keep them on my radar and hopefully see them again soon.

I raced back from North Carolina to get to the Fillmore in Silver Spring to catch the Warren Haynes Band. I made it in time to hear the last of the first set and all of the second set. Warren has formed this band and released an album as a tribute to his love for soul music, we saw them at the All Good Festival and this show was the last show on their tour. The addition of singer Alecia Chakour has made their vocal sound stronger. They did do some great soul tunes, including Sly Stone's "Let Me Have it All", Mother's Finest "Baby Love" and the Sam Cooke classic "A Change is Gonna Come". Then they started rocking things up with Jimi Hendrix's "Spanish Castle Magic" and Steely Dan's "Pretzel Logic".  During the encore, which of course included Warren's "Soulshine" they sequed into Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey". This was truly a magical musical moment, I think all of the players were inspired trying to make this last show really special. A special nod of appreciation goes to sax player Ron Holloway (from Takoma Park). I think if the Stones ever need a replacement for Bobby Keys, Ron is their man. The Fillmore is starting to work through some of the initial issues that I had with this venue, like no good beer on the menu and a little too much "corporate presence" from the Live Nation folks. The sound is great and look forward to more/better shows in the future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Journey Across America

I've seen a great deal of live music since my last blog update, just haven't found the time to write it down. We saw two great shows at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Steely Dan in the first week of August and Zappa Plays Zappa/Return to Forever in the second week. The ZPZ/RTF show was particularly good, although I was disappointed that Jean Luc Ponty did not join ZPZ for a song or two. We also went to the Frank Zappa Day in Baltimore in September , caught several good bands including the All Mighty Senators. And we saw a really special show in September at the Jammin' Java - Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, and others did an amazing performance of original and King Crimson music that needs additional comment. I spent the first two weekends in October at the Misty Mountain Music Festival and the Festy, two great festivals in the hills of central Virginia (with a nice Bruce Cockburn show at the Charlottesville Jefferson Theatre tossed in there). 

But for this blog entry I'm going to diverge from the live music theme and share some photos and comments of our Drive Across America. We wanted to establish a winter home away from home in the Southwest so we decided to relocate our Pinnacle from Maryland to Arizona.  What follows is a summary of that trip.

Thursday 10/20

The Bird, the F-350, and the Pinnacle - ready to start 
The Bird and I set out on Thursday 10/20 with the Pinnacle in tow, heading south and making our first stop at Natural Bridge, Virginia. We stayed at the Yogi Bear campground which is in a nice rural setting and plenty of space. Our truck was reading 9 miles of fuel remaining on the trip computer, so we headed out Thursday evening in search for a quick diesel fill up. That turned into a white knuckle driving adventure as every gas station in the Natural Bridge/Buena Vista area was either closed/out of fuel/or no diesel on the menu. We must have driven 30 miles before we finally coasted in on fumes to a station with available fuel.  Later that evening I watched the last few innings of Game 2 of the World Series, Rangers win 2 - 1.

I lived in Virginia for 25 years but for some reason never visited this natural wonder. We were one of the first to arrive at the Natural Bridge Friday morning, I had rather low expectations, thinking it would be a little bridge that you looked at for five minutes and then that was it. Instead this thing is huge, with a beautiful trail that winds underneath and up into the mountains. It is higher than Niagara Falls and the Lee Highway still runs over it. We really enjoyed it and I was glad the Bird suggested checking it out.

Natural Bridge

Here is where a young surveyor named George Washington carved his initials in the bridge in 1750. 

Lace Falls, near the Natural Bridge
After that we drove five miles up to a "drive through safari" where you can see and feed a wide variety of exotic animals from the comfort of the front seat of your vehicle.  

This llama was the first to greet us.

Ostrich at the Safari

The camels were the most assertive in getting food. One of them decided to grab the whole bowl rather than  eat out of it.

After the safari, we went back to Yogi Bear's place, hooked up the Pinnacle and headed south. Our propane system had been acting strangely, so we stopped at the Camping World in Roanoke to have a professional take a look at it. Turns out the switch that allows you to switch between primary and backup tanks is installed exactly backwards, which was causing me much confusion. The folks at Camping World were very helpful and soon we were on our way. The town of Sevierville, just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee was our next stop at the Two Rivers camp resort. This place is right in the middle of a commercial district, many outlet centers and fast food joints but it's right on the French Broad river (what a name) and the facilities are top notch. The on site manager, Ken, helped me back the Pinnacle into the snug site and his wife had hot coffee ready for us in the morning at the main building. 

We pulled out Saturday morning and rather than taking the interstate, we decided to take a more scenic route.  After getting through the over the top touristy attractions in Gatlinburg we wound through some beautiful fall foliage in the Great Smokey Mountains.  Then we nipped across the northwest corner of Georgia and on to Birmingham Alabama. We found a nice state park (Oak Mountain), set up the rig and headed into town in search of barbecue (or is it bar-b-que? or BBQ?). We found some good meat at Jim N Nicks which is right in the downtown area.  Saw some of Game 3 of the World Series in the restaurant, caught an inning or so on the radio on the drive home, then finished up watching the bloodbath in the Pinnacle, Cards win 16 - 7.

From Birmingham we headed due south to the Gulf Shores state park and got a great campsite location, this is a park where you could spend several days. We had a nice seafood dinner in Orange Beach, and enjoyed the peaceful serenity of the state park. Watched Texas get their game back and win Game 4 with a score of 4 - 0.

The Pinnacle in Gulf Shores State Park in Alabama 
In the morning I took a nice bike ride over some trails surrounding the state park and the Bird and I then spent some time on the beach. We met some guys who were using nets to pick up very small tar balls from the beach and we saw some fishermen pull in a few whiting.
Me monitoring Gulf Shore cleanup activities.

Pavilion on the Beach

Fishing on the Gulf Shore
After visiting the beach, we loaded up and drove across the bottom of Mississippi and on to New Orleans. We found a funky campground in the grounds of an old plantation about 45 miles outside of the city. It's called Poche Plantation, right on the Mississippi River, and has a lot of character. After setting up the rig we soaked in the hot tub, made some dinner and watched a tough battle (Game 5) where the Rangers prevailed 4 - 2. During commercials I watched the Ravens take a terrible drubbing against the weak Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Pinnacle at Poche Plantation, outside of New Orleans
Tuesday 10/25
We decided to take a break from traveling on this day and do some sightseeing in New Orleans. Cafe au lait with beignets at Cafe du Monde, then searching the old St. Louis cemeteries for the crypt of Maria Laveau, a voodoo priestess mentioned in songs by Dr. John, Canned Heat, Dr. Hook, and others.  We didn't find her but the search was fun. Then beers and oysters at the Royal House, a drive through the lower 9th ward to see how it was faring, and dinner at Jacques-Ismo's with our friend Mariah and some of her Tulane college buddies.

The band takes a break 
The Bird checks out the cemetery while keeping an eye on the Powerball.
This might be Madame Laveau's crypt.

View from our table at the Oyster House

Jacques-ismo's Restaurant

With our new friends from Tulane
Wednesday 10/26
Heading west from New Orleans it was a long drive to Katy, Texas just west of Houston. We stopped for a tasty etouffe lunch in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Then we made it the Stephen F. Austin State Park which was very nice. Large campsites in a beautiful wooded setting, the place was crawling with deer and other wildlife. My cousin Woody, his son Jack, and Jack's girlfriend Kayla came by to visit. We had a good time catching up, showing photos to each other, and the Bird even helped Jack with some of his calculus homework. We would have watched Game 6 of the world series, but it was rained out.

Stephen F. Austin State Park
Took a nice but short bike ride in the State Park in the morning, then it was a relatively short travel time from Katy to Austin, where we set up camp in the McKinney Falls State Park. Nice setting, but it was a bit of a challenge to our back up skills to get the Pinnacle in the campsite. Once we setup, we headed into Austin and took the bat watching cruise. There were about 20 of us on a open air party boat that sailed around on Lady Bird Lake ending up at sunset under the Congressional Bridge. 1.5 million bats live under the bridge and at sunset they all fly out to go bug hunting. It is quite a sight to see. Cap'n Dave kept us entertained with fun facts about Austin and the bats throughout the cruise. Afterwards we went to a barbecue joint called Green Mesquite, super service, great atmosphere and tasty smoked meat. Game 6 of the World Series was on a TV in the restaurant, but it was out of my sight, so after eating we headed back to the camper and watched the last half of the game, Cards win 10 - 9 in a wild extra inning extra inning affair. 

Here's a one minute video that I took of the bats taking off from under the Congress Street Bridge. In the background you can hear Cap'n Dave giving us bat facts.


It is a long drive west from Austin to get to New Mexico. In fact it's too long so most folks stop about halfway in Ft. Stockton, TX. I think this is the only reason this place exists, but we found a very nice campground and an even nicer Mexican restaurant called Mi Casita. There was no real television reception in Ft. Stockton, so I listened to Game 7 on the satellite radio, Cards win 6 - 2 and clinch the Championship.
Beautiful Fort Stockton Texas

There was a barbecue contest at the campground where we were staying. Check out this Texas style Barbecue cooker.

Our next day took us to Alamogordo, New Mexico where we set up at the Boot Hill RV resort. Alamogordo is not much of an attraction, but just 20 miles north at the Three Rivers National Park are these fascinating petroglyphs carved into rocks by Native Americans some 1,000 years ago. It is a National Park and the park rangers that live out there in the desert with the petroglyphs are a hilarious couple, almost like a southwestern version of Stiller and Meara.

Three Rivers Petroglyph site. Our truck is parked in the parking lot down there.

This one looks like a Peace sign. 

Sunday 10/30
We set out from Alamogordo with the intention of making another stop in New Mexico to check out their hot springs in City of Rocks or Gila Forest, but once we started rolling we decided to push on to Picacho, AZ, the final destination for this trek. We made it just as it turned dark, all in all over 2,700 miles on the truck and 10 days of traveling.

Picacho Peak in Arizona