My Covid Road Trip II
By Don Wall
“I’m Thankful That Old Road Is A Friend Of Mine”
“Snowin’ on Raton” by Townes Van Zandt
We left the August heat of Dallas and headed northwest through the wind farms and oil fields of West Texas and stayed in Raton, New Mexico, and thought about Townes and by morning we were “through them hills and gone.” Part two of our Covid Road Trip put us on the road to Steamboat Springs (“How Bout Them Cowgirls”) to see my daughter and her family. We drove past a sign that read “Ludlow Massacre Monument” and I said “Angel, remember how we drove past the sign-in Kentucky that said Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace, and I regretted not stopping? Well, I think we should go back and check out the Ludlow Massacre.” Down the gravel road, we came to a fenced-in enclosure protecting a granite statue that depicts a man standing next to a woman comforting a young girl. Turns out the Ludlow Massacre was a labor massacre in 1914 executed by the coal mine company owned by John D. Rockefeller Jr. using hired militia, employees, local law enforcement, and the Colorado National Guard against striking coal miners and their families. The striking miners, mostly immigrants, had wanted better working conditions and fair wages and were thrown out of their homes in the company town.
The government-backed attackers fired a machine gun and burned down the strikers’ tented camp across the railroad tracks. Some 21 people were killed including women and children who suffocated in a cellar dug underneath the tents. This travesty caused the strikers to take up arms and go on a rampage killing as many as a hundred coal miners, guards, and company officials, and burning down company facilities during what became known as the Colorado Coalfield War. President Woodrow Wilson sent in federal troops to stop it. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about it.
We took some cement and walled that cave up,
Where you killed these thirteen children inside,
I said, “God bless the Mine Workers’ Union, “
And then I hung my head and cried.
“The Ludlow Massacre” by Woody Guthrie
This dark and sobering story made us realize how much the history of the American West fueled by Manifest Destiny has been forgotten and rewritten. Still driving through the Rockies is a gloriously timeless experience. Over the next few days, the sun and the stars provided nothing but light and joy camping and fishing with my three grandsons at Steamboat Lake State Park. The Perseid meteor shower and the Milky Way melted our angst as the campfire melted the s’mores. John Denver came to mind, our Dallas Songwriters Association 2020 Hall of Famer who went to high school in Fort Worth and wrote Rocky Mountain High after a night like this.
The Colorado rocky mountain high
I’ve seen it rainin’ fire in the sky
The shadow from the starlight is softer than a lullabye
Rocky mountain high (Colorado)
“Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver
Angel has been on a quest to complete her bucket list to visit all 50 states and I’ve been helping her seeking songs and adventure as we headed to Wyoming, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa before swinging down to Kentucky to finish unfinished business and see if there really is a log cabin at Lincoln’s birthplace. Grand Teton National Park is one of America’s natural treasures, the front door to Yellowstone. We hiked four and a half miles through the bear country on WPA-built trails to Hermitage Point where we looked across Lake Jackson at the peaks of the Grand Teton Range. Redemptively, that same John D. Rockefeller Jr. played a critical role in the creation of Grand Teton National Park by buying up land around Jackson Hole and donating it to the federal government, pretty much saving the view and preventing it from becoming privately owned and inaccessible to ordinary people.
In South Dakota, we camped near Mt. Rushmore and unwittingly joined the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, a friendly crowd not prone to wearing masks or social distancing. So we chose to be really careful when we visited Mt. Rushmore that amazing monument to Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt, the conservation president. We visited the Crazy Horse Memorial and tried to visit the Wounded Knee Massacre Memorial but were turned back at a Lakota roadblock to prevent the spread of Covid-19. We enjoyed a couple of Don McLean’s “Starry, starry nights” camping in Nebraska on the Niobrara River on the Lewis and Clark trail. In Iowa we stopped to see the World’s Largest Popcorn Ball and saw plenty of wind turbines which we didn’t see in Wyoming or South Dakota where there is plenty of wind. Our pilgrimage took us to the cornfield with the horned rim glasses memorial commemorating “The Day The Music Died,” February 3, 1959, when Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, J.P. Richardson (“The Big Bopper”), and pilot Roger Peterson were killed in a plane crash.
Peggy Sue, Peggy Sue, pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty, Peggy Sue
Oh my Peggie, my Peggie Sue
Oh well I love you gal, I love you Peggy Sue
“Peggy Sue” by Jerry Allison & Norman Petty
They don’t write ‘em like that anymore.
After overnighting in Iowa we were “On The Road Again” slicing through Farm Aid country, Illinois, and Indiana including John Mellencamp Way and on to Kentucky. We arrived at the Abraham Lincoln Birthplace after the park had closed so we found an open gate and drove into the adjacent property and walked over. The Neo-Classical Memorial Building which enshrines the symbolic birth cabin was closed. Where we parked was an old abandoned inn and it had five or six little log cabins. We found ourselves on the Blue Moon of Kentucky Highway traversing Western Kentucky and I asked Angel to google where Bill Monroe was born.
“Rosine, Kentucky, about an hour away.”
Rosine is a tiny town with a barbecue joint and is home to the Rosine Barn Jamboree held every Friday night. It was Saturday and nobody was there so I pulled out my guitar and played “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” both the Bill and the Elvis versions, ate some barbecue and asked where the Bill Monroe Homeplace was. “About a mile down the road.”
Blue Moon of Kentucky keep on shining
Shine on the one that’s gone and made me blue
“Blue Moon of Kentucky” by Bill Monroe
It was almost completely dark as we drove up the winding gravel road to the top of Jerusalem Ridge. We didn’t know if the house was in ruins and we expected complete darkness. Serendipity doo dah when we got to the top of the ridge we encountered about 30 cars, lights, people, and music. Was this a bluegrass dream? We walked up to find a bunch of local people, food, homemade ice cream, a sound system and The Caney Creek Gang Pickin’ on the Porch at the Bill Monroe Homeplace. We had arrived in Bluegrass Heaven and started meeting and greeting people. We were the Wayfaring Strangers from Texas.
I am a poor, wayfaring stranger
While traveling through this world below
There is no toil, no sick, no danger
In that fair land, to which I go
“Wayfaring Stranger” Traditional performed by Bill Monroe
They said “Go on in the house and look around” and so we did and the house has been completely restored with Bill Monroe’s personal possessions all over the place. Back on the porch, the boys said they were going to take a break and invited people to come up for the open mic. I looked around and saw a couple of instrument cases and a kid about 13 in a white t-shirt and black gambler’s hat warming up on his mandolin. So I went back to the car and got my guitar and walked back up and told them I came from Texas and they invited me to go up on the porch and join the session. When it was my turn to sing one I said “How about ‘Dooley” by the Dillards and we played it. Afterward, the MC said “You Texans can all sing can’t ya” and I thanked him and said, “We try.”
And then we accompanied the kid on mandolin, Jasper Beatty, who played a very credible classic Bill Monroe version of “Blue Moon Of Kentucky” before the Caney Creek Gang came back to haul ass. Later Jody Flener, tourism director for Ohio County, told me that Jasper is autistic and a crowd favorite who gets requests to play with all the bands that come to Pickin’ on the Porch and the Rosine Barn Jamboree. Off the porch, an old boy came over to me and said I did good and mentioned how my song sounded like that song from the Andy Griffith Show. I said it sure was. On the show, the Dillards were called the Darlings and they played their song “Dooley” with Andy playing guitar and Barney slapping his chair.
Dooley slippin’ up the holler
Dooley tryin’ to make a dollar
Dooley, give me a swaller
And I’ll pay you back someday
“Dooley” by Rodney Dillard & Mitch Jayne
The hotel that night was in Muhlenberg County down by the Green River where John Prine’s Paradise lay. Music was flowing from the faucet and we just had to go back through Nashville. It was midday on Sunday and believe it or not the Ryman Auditorium was open for tours and almost nobody was there because of the pandemic. So we joined a tour with six other masked people to learn about the Ryman and the heyday of the Grand Ole Opry.
They even let us go into the dressing rooms. Part of the price of admission was a photograph on the Ryman stage and I asked if I could bring my guitar and they said sure. Because there was no line I asked the photographer if she would mind if I sang a song and she said no. So I played my song “Cornbread” all the way through to a mostly empty Ryman Auditorium and I heard some applause.
Cornbread, cornbread, cornbread, ice tea
Don’t forget your greens and black-eyed peas
Money, gold, prosperity
I wasn’t born here; I may not die here
But I got Texas in my genes
“Cornbread” by Don Wall
The photographer said she couldn’t believe I could play my song with Tammy Wynette singing “Stand By Your Man” over the loudspeaker. I told her I didn’t even hear Tammy. One of the ushers said “Sounded good to hear live music here again.” I was in the clouds somewhere beyond the stained glass windows of the Mother Church of Country Music. We tried to go to Tootsie’s for a drink but it was closed so we went to the Mellow Mushroom for pizza, live music, and a cold beer. All of this would make the journey back to Texas a breeze. However “Call Me the Breeze, I keep blowin’ down the road” by J.J. Cale was blowing us towards Tulsa. I wanted to check out the Woody Guthrie Center and visit the Greenwood District where the Tulsa Race Massacre took place in 1921. White mobs deputized by local officials and the Oklahoma National Guard destroyed 35 square blocks in the area known as Black Wall Street. Up to 300 people may have been killed. And while the Woody Guthrie Center was closed the mural was there. That’s what I wanted to see with the headline: “This Land Is Your Land” and the label on Woody’s guitar “This Machine Kills Fascists.”
“This Land Is Your Land”
I roamed and rambled, and followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
All around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me
“This Land Is Your Land” by Woody Guthrie
Woody was the American troubadour who influenced Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan and the folk scene that evolved along with bluegrass, rock & roll, blues, and country to give us today’s Americana music. And the only state left on the bucket list is Alaska.