COLUMN NINETY-EIGHT, OCTOBER 1, 2003
(Copyright © 2003 The Blacklisted Journalist)
PART TWO: A SOULFUL TRIP---PANAMA TOURS NEW ENGLAND
TN, July 17th, 2003 - - Bradford, Vermont, is a small town on the border of New
Hampshire near Dartmouth College. The Volvo and I pulled in on the morning of
was a Saturday, the street was occupied by very few people. All the scene required to be right out of High Plains Drifter was an old yellow dog lazily crossing the road.
Maybe I was looking the other way.
things open seemed to be the grocery store/deli, a clothing store with the best
flannel collection I have ever seen, a bookstore and the public library, which
is situated in an old building complete with round tower.
I had by this time grown accustomed to the prevalence of buildings so old
they seem to have sunk into their surroundings here in Vermont. Upon finding out
that there was nowhere to get a drink this early in the day, I sauntered over to
the library to check my email, of which there was blessed little.
Maybe I didn't saunter. Maybe
I merely walked. Anyway there was
not much happening in cyberspace. So
I returned to the deli, bought a ham and cheese sandwich and a Gatorade and
asked for directions to Middle Earth, where I would be performing this evening.
that Middle Earth was right around the corner from the bookstore.
I went and tried the door. Nope.
There was encouragement, however, in the form of a poster announcing my
performance this evening. I
returned to the grocery, and because my cell was inoperative in these hills
and/or latitude, I borrowed their phone and put in a call to Chris Jones, the
proprietor of Middle Earth. Got a
message. Since he couldn't call me
on the cell and since I didn't want to wait around for a drink til four o'clock
when the spaghetti joint next door opened for business, I looked at the map and
rapidly discerned that Sunapee, NH, home of Aerosmith and my friend the artist
Sebastian Houseman, was not all that far away. The Volvo and I set out for
I arrived an
hour later in Sunapee, and after a couple of false starts, Sebastian and I
Houseman, American artist, is the progeny of the famously dignified actor John
Houseman ("We get our money the old-fashioned way: we STEAL it..."
says a framed New Yorker cartoon of the old gentleman hanging on Seb's wall).
I first met Sebastian when he was a snot-nosed kid of seventeen in
Coconut Grove, Florida. Now he's a
snot-nosed kid of fifty living in Sunapee, married to a marvelous pastry chef
and cook and exquisite intellect and all-around good ole girl named Margaret.
For a while he was part of the road crew for The Legendary Panama Red
with Montezuma's Revenge back in the day when I toured with a band.
He is also godfather to my daughter, Megan.
I had been
planning to stop over for a few days with Margaret and Sebastian ever since the
New England tour had taken form. They
reside in an old farmhouse built somewhere around 1750.
I got the Benedict Arnold Room.
As it was
now verging on six pm, and as my gig was to start at nine, Sebastian agreed to
accompany me back up the highway to Bradford and Middle Earth. Along the way we chatted about my upcoming tour of France,
beautiful young girls we had loved back in the Grove salad days and whatever
became of them (most of them, but sadly, not all... survived to become beautiful
old grannies), and Art and Music and other intangible and evanescent Things That
Start With Capital Letters, just as we have always done throughout the course of
our friendship. We arrived back in Bradford about seven.
is a folksinger's dream come true. Located
in the basement of an old (of course) building just down from the dam and just
up from the river, it features a marvelous sound system, ably manned tonight by
Ren Millican and his faithful sound dog Chance, and a homey stage decorated with
a moosehead that turned out to be made entirely of velour.
There is a kitchen that cranks out killer sandwiches---I chose the roast
beef---and a worldwide selection of hoppish quaffs.
I had Amstel, of course.
of culture in the Vermont backwoods is owned and operated by Chris Jones and his
partner Sue Monica, "the brains of this outfit." Chris has been producing events here in Bradford for a number
of years, either in venues too small for the audience or too large for the acts.
For a while he promoted concerts in the Bradford town hall, "until
the fire marshal decided we were having too good a time.
He was probably originally from New Hampshire, the sonsabitches".
finally solved the problem by going whole-hog and acquiring and refurbishing
Middle Earth, which is of an appropriate middling capacity.
To give some idea of the importance of this venue, here is just a partial
list of acts who have appeared at Middle Earth since its opening in 2002:
Norman Blake, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Duke Robillard,
Aztec Two Step, Tom Rush, Jonathan Edwards, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Eric
Andersen, Ellis Paul.
tonight he could have used a smaller space, as about eight people turned out to
see the RedMan. Still, Chris and I
soldiered through the evening, he absorbing his losses and I absorbing the
bruises to my ego.
Okay, there weren't many folks there, but the ones who were---they were quality people, let me tell you. One thing about small audiences: by the end of the evening, we were old friends. Guests
Old Man of The Mountains loses
included Eric Vogel, a professor from Dartmouth, no
doubt there to hear that fine and sensitive Kinky Friedman/Panama Red ballad Homo
Erectus. There was also a
fine blonde babe, but she was fiercely guarded by her escort.
stage lights were out and our close personal friends---the audience---had gone
home with CDs and T-shirts, Chris and I talked amicably for awhile, but then we
caved in to the inevitable and said goodbye until next April, when Dartmouth
will be back in session and I can reasonably be expected to be a better draw.
Then, Sebastian and I pointed the
Volvo east back toward New Hampshire. Thank
you, Bradford, and Middle Earth...and Chris Jones.
New Hampshire, on license plates and state road signs, the same icon continually
turns up: "The Old Man of the Mountain". The Old Man was a rock formation, a cliff face visible for
miles and inherent in the lore of New Hampshiremen since way before the American
Revolution. It was venerated in the
hearts of those who "Live, Freeze and Die" since time immemorial as,
among other things, a symbol of what makes New Hampshiremen different
from oh, say, Vermonters.
But a few
months ago something happened to the Old Man that caused a great sadness
throughout the state. The Old Man
fell. Tumbled from his perch leaving a new, and not very picturesque, cliff face
in his stead. Dire predictions had
abounded for countless years, guy cables had been attached, all to prevent what
is, after all, a force of Nature, namely gravity, but to no avail.
The Old Man gently slipped his moorings one day and crashed to the forest
below. As I say, it was a
tragic event, and New Hampshire continues to mourn.
Back in the
Benedict Arnold Room the next morning after the Middle Earth gig, I awoke to
birdsongs and a bright new day. Sebastian
had recently had his silted-up old pond dug out, and was in the process of
landscaping the verge around the recently expanded and deepened hole.
I had offered to help, especially as this would give me the excuse to
play with one of his garden tractors.
So after a
petit dejeuner and some lung exercises that left me in a lighter frame of mind,
I donned my old sneaks and shorts and joined Farmer Seb out in the yard.
the Artiste stirs. Here, put these
on," Sebastian said, handing me a new pair of cowhide gloves.
We raked and
shoveled and hauled and hauled and shoveled and raked all that morning.
Finally I had to ask:
Seb, what's this sneering semi-contempt that New Hampshiremen and Vermonters
seem to have for each other?"
mostly it's a put-on, but New Hampshire thinks Vermont is a bunch of fairies,
and Vermont thinks New Hampshire is a bunch of uptight country assholes.
But like I say, it's mostly a put-on attitude...each state actually feels
a lot more contempt for the other forty-eight than for each other.
Well, maybe not Maine. Maine's
be relieved to hear that in Maine, I'm sure," I say.
Mainers don't give a shit what anybody thinks one way or the other."
Hampshire thinks Vermonters are fairies?"
you noticed the preponderance of lesbians in Burlington, Panama."
hadn't, but that would explain the vast selection of flannel I had seen at the
store in Bradford.
I spent four
totally wonderful days in the warm atmosphere of Margaret's and Sebastian's
company. Even as we shoveled and hauled and raked, etc.
I have never felt so welcome or so at ease. Margaret is so easygoing as to permit me to call her by
variations of her given name, Marge, Margo, Marzhay, Peggums, every permutation
I could think of, something Seb says is rare in her. She is a patient wonder.
And, as I say, a marvelous cook.
evening together we had "lob-stah".
So much lob-stah that we couldn't finish. We sat around the table, our
bellies stuffed, looking sadly at the two we hadn't been able to get to.
morning, Thursday, June 26, I set out once again to my final gig: The Buttonwood
Tree in Middletown, CT.
NEXT: PANAMA PLAYS THE BUTTONWOOD, VISITS WITH FAMILY IN CONNECTICUT, WEST VIRGINIA AND KENTUCKY AND COMES HOME ##
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