I have a joke I told to a friend who wanted me to move to Austin. "Austin's cool, but if I drive 150 miles I'm in Portland or Vancouver. You drive 150 miles and you're in Texas." After my trip to Cardwell, I want to extend that with "I drive 400 miles and I'm in Montana, you drive 400 miles and you're still in Texas"
When I left work on Friday, I was overwhelmed with the stupidity of what I was doing. I was going to drive 650 miles to see a band that I had only seen once before. Why not wait until the next Seattle show? Why not fly to Austin at the end of the tour instead? What I had forgotten is that driving to a show isn't a detriment, it's a large part of the reason to go to shows.
Flying isn't really traveling. You sit down, close your eyes, get up a few hours later, and you're in Miami or Maui or Maine or Most anywhere. Looking out the window, you rarely have any idea of knowing where you are. When you drive however, you always know exactly where you are. You are part of the local world for a brief period of time. Tour is the soundtrack to our roadtrip adventures and makes them that much more interesting.
Heading across the Cascades, I was in a great mood. Once you get outside of the suburbs of Seattle, there is no big city until Chicago along I-90 (Spokane is the biggest city in that stretch). The culture along the road changes a lot there. The first sign that you're in a different world occurs if you get off at Rosslyn. This town was home to TV's Northern Exposure, has a museum that seems to be filled with junk from people's attics, and a corner named after someone who sat on a bench there and ate ice cream.
Eastbound on I-90, crossing the Columbia River (singing "Roll on Columbia, Roll On" the whole time of course) puts you in Farm Fun territory. Farm Fun is an interesting little tape that they run in an endless loop on AM 1610. About once a week or so they make a different one. When I drove by this time I got to hear "Rock and Roll Part II" as performed by barn animals. Going by George, WA are two of my favorite roadsigns. First you have the "Crop Names on Fencelines Next 10 Miles." It's weird enough that they have little signs ("Corn"... "Wheat"....) letting you know what they're planting, but why did WDOT think that we cared for how long these signs would be there. However my all time favorite sign is just north of I-90 on WA 281. It simply says "Hitchhiking Permitted". Yes folks, the state of Washington encourages you to hitchhike.
I had decided before I left that I would stop at a Motel 6 in Couer d'Alene. While that turned out to be a financial mistake (Spokane hotels are $20 cheaper), I'm glad I did it. I was talking to the woman while checking in, mentioned that I was going to Cardwell for a concert, and she asked, "Is this a Rainbow Gathering?" I gave a double take; she didn't look the type. Turned out that her son was a big Deadhead and it had rubbed off on her. We are everywhere.
After walking to a store to get some food (and getting weird looks from people driving. I guess people don't walk in Couer d'Alene.), I settled in to watch the end of the Hawks/Niners game. Seattle got the ball at their 4 yard line, down 6 points with about a minute and a half left and only one timeout. Drove the length of the field to win it. Way cool.
Woke up the next morning around sunrise to do something I had never
done before- drive through Montana in the daytime. The signs
welcoming you to the state don't actually say,
"Welcome to Montana. Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,"
but perhaps they should.
For the first 20 miles into the state, I-90 is not a divided highway. There's a little lane separating the two sides, but it basically is a left turn lane. There's nothing preventing you from making a U-turn there. So what's the speed limit there? Why "Reasonable and Prudent" of course. The R&P speed limit does seem to work well actually. I was going between 80 and 85 (well on the straightaways) and was passing people for the most part. The thing about Reasonable and Prudent is that they mean it. It's a speed limit designed to promote safety instead of raising revenue. As long as you're driving safely you're fine. It still seems weird... as does the Casino policy.
What is the Montana policy with respect to casinos? I don't know and I couldn't really find out. The best I could discover was at an Exxon/Casino in Missoula. "Well they don't want too many casinos in any town," said the attendant. Weird, a state trying to run by the policy of "Look, just don't overdo it, ok?"
I did have a little scare at the very end of the drive. Just past Butte there is one final pass. As I noticed that I was crossing the Continental Divide, I saw the sign that trucks should slow down for the descent. Well I'm not a truck, why should I worry? I found out when I stepped on the brakes to go around a curve. I pushed and got little resistance. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill, I was really freaking out. Fortunately my lesson about the great value of downshifting had no consequence; they were working fine by the next morning.
The spirit of Montana was in full force at LaHood. Barely 100 miles from Yellowstone, the beauty of the area was quite apparent. The stage was on the west side of a clearing, hills were visible behind it and to the south. There also were some behind the crowd, which led for some dramatic developments later. As for rules, well they didn't seem to be needed. In contrast to some of the recent shows I had seen, it was a really peaceful crowd. While it was mostly made up of hippies from Bozeman and Missoula, there also were some diehard bluegrass fans there. Out in the parking lot, an impromptu band formed. Between the oldest member of the performers and the youngest member of the audience, 4 generations were represented.
It was a hot day, so I wandered across the railroad tracks and down to the Jefferson River. I'm not quite sure how I ever got out of it. Other than not being able to hear the music, it was the perfect spot. About 20 degrees cooler than the venue, it was amazing. I would go back to LaHood just for the joy of being able to swim there again.
After a two hour dinner break (The park had a restaurant and a little
gazebo to get out of the sun.
Note the old map and ads in the
latter. The map stretched all the way around the roof, starting with US 10
in Seattle and ending with US 20 in New York City) the main acts came
on. I was dancing hard to Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band so I went to
get some water. On my walk back down to the stage, I saw the sunset.
It was one of those sunsets where the clouds nearby cause streaks of light to expand in all directions from the sun. I went back to the front of the stage and all but ordered people to go look at it. One person who had had perhaps a bit too much that day, pointed out to me that the center of the sunset had a cloud formation that looked exactly like a face. "It's Mr Sun!!" Well I wouldn't have used that phrase, but it did work.
Now what makes touring great? Let's see. I got to explore Montana. I swam in the Jefferson River. I saw some cool cars and cool people. Oh yeah, some band named String Cheese Incident is going to play for a few hours.
I haven't yet reached the point where I can review a SCI show. All I know is that I danced and danced hard. Once again I was sore the next day. During their set, someone pulled out a searchlight and shone it on the surrounding hills. After a minute of that they started making shadow animals on the hills. However that wouldn't be the peak of the light show; the storm was about to move in.
One of my favorite memories happened at Red Rocks in 1993. Phish played Slave to the Traffic Light, while I watched a thunderstorm rage over downtown Denver. Well this night I got a repeat. Tonight the storm flashed over Butte (Me: "Is that really Butte we can see in the distance?" Local: "This is Big Sky Country."). A drop of rain fell here or there but the storm held off during the Cheese's set.
It wasn't going to last forever though. During Leftover Salmon's set, we got a 20 minute downpour complete with thunder and lightning. The lightning struck the hills behind the crowd, starting three different brush fires. Once the storm rolled out though, it got cold. I walked back to the car, rolled down the windows a tad, and let Leftover Salmon lull me to sleep. Right before I fell asleep there was a really nice jam with 3 mandolin players ("For the first time on a Montana stage"). Later I heard that they stayed on stage for an hour later than planned. Why not? It's Montana. It's not like there are neighbors to disturb.
I woke up feeling amazing. I had a 400 mile drive ahead of me that day, but it was barely a challenge. Maybe it was the thin air, maybe it was the show, maybe it was the beauty of Montana at dawn on Sunday, but I caught myself singing Loving Cup as I filled up my tank. What a beautiful buzz, what a beautiful buzz.
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