COLORADO // CARPE // MILWAUKEE // MERLEFEST // BLOOD BROTHERS
Last summer I fished a river I used to fish regularly, on a hard-to-reach stretch I’d noted in years prior but never got around to investigating. The river bellies away from the road there a mile or more, cutting a sheer wall from a fold of granite. From road to river all the intervening land is posted, and taken together these two facts require a fair hike within the high water mark - and time enough to get back out again - in order to fish the heart of the bend. At a certain age you notice that time accelerates as your experience of it lengthens, each passing moment a smaller part of your life than the moment prior. One feels this sort of thing keenly while scouting a river from the driver’s side of the truck, trying to decide where to fish.
You can only cover a stretch of river the first time once, but the bones of it, even the minute features of geomorphology and hydraulic, imprint upon the mind in detail. When I first read Hemingway’s stories of the Big Two-Hearted River in my teens, I assumed he was employing an artistic device in describing each day of fishing so precisely. But now after logging upward of fifty or sixty days on the water for a number of years, I think he was simply relating a point of grace. The mind builds a treasury of hours, with a fidelity to light and shade, and the corporeal experience of serious play that stands outside of the current of life.
On this particular day, I left enough time. I parked the truck just beyond the posted land, jointed my rod, threaded down the reel and lay it flat on the rear fender, a field desk ranged with specialized and often dubious tackle. I made a bight in the line and fed it through the guides - counting, because I always count through the guides, though I could not tell you how many of them there are, being always distracted by the sound of the river, and the ambient thrum in the blood that precedes beginning - tied on a large, vague ant pattern, secured my hat and keys, and wandered down to the water. It was August, a run of days without rain, hot and the deep overripe green of late summer thinly coated with dust.
I had found large rainbow trout a few days earlier, downstream of where I now entered the channel, in shallow troughs and slack water I would have guessed too skinny to hold them, and now as I began walking up-river I picked apart these pockets in a series of quick, snapping casts, like a drover trying to herd the river back uphill. Broad and flat, the stream bed fanned out of a long gravel reach and I caught two nice fish, eyeing the vanishing point of the river in a tall dark V of country just beyond where I crouched on one knee after releasing them, taking a moment to look around, letting my pulse settle.
I stood at the margin of the first pool where the cliff sheared away above, the extremity cantilevered out over the water and the deep green of the channel beneath it shading into emerald, where daylight pierced the canopy and illuminated a small flurry of mayflies above the run. I checked my back-cast and then lay out an arc of line that put the fly on the seam where the current and the backing water met, and then, suddenly I woke up, drenched in sweat from a breaking fever at the end of a week with the flu, and the moon a thin crescent setting south of west out the window in the dark. It’s deep winter, the rivers are locked up under a foot of ice, and I’ve been off the road for over a month. I’m 42, I have a new record finished, and due out in June. Here’s to summer green, the river of real time, and wild things caught and released.
COLORADO - February 8-11 Billy Conway and I will play both sides of the Continental Divide in the course of four Colorado shows, starting out west in Ridgway, at the Sherbino(2/8), a great little theater and bar we found last spring, before heading back up to Basalt and The Temporary (2/9), a town, and room we’ve never played. Then it’s the lovely eTown Hall in Boulder (2/10), and up to old Fort Collins and the Downtown Artery (2/11). Patrick Dethlefs opens Boulder, and my old friend John Statz opens the Fort Collins show.
CARPE - When I was in my last year of school at the University of Wisconsin, doing nothing either very good or very bad, I delivered a cassette tape to Bill Camplin at the Cafe Carpe, over in Fort Atkinson. On one side were songs I’d written, mercifully lost to posterity now, and on the other some covers. He was kind of enough to listen to it and when I called him a few weeks later to see about a gig, kind enough to be straight with me. “Your own songs aren’t very good,” he said, “But your cover choices are outstanding… I’ll book you into a song-swap with a couple other guys that don’t play out much, and between you, if you each bring in a few friends, you’ll have a healthy little crowd and a chance to play your songs.” That seemed fair enough, and I took the gig. After college and a little running around, I moved to Fort, and the Cafe Carpe became my home gig. Friends and family would show up and buy drinks and harass me when I blew a lyric or a change, and then half of them would sleep on the floor of my apartment and we’d have a sort of rolling beer party for a couple days. Bill would put me on to open for anybody he thought I ought to meet, and one thing led to another, and pretty soon I was on the road myself. I don’t get to play the Carpe much anymore, so I booked two nights solo back to back in March (3/15-16). It’s a small room, so get your tickets early.
MILWAUKEE - On Saturday the 17th of March I'll be appearing as a panelist and musical guest on the improv/quiz show I Should Know This at the Urban Harvest Brewing Company in Milwaukee, WI. The show is run and hosted by one of my oldest friends, Kris Puddicombe, and features comedians and audience members interacting within a quiz show format. He assures me that it will be funny, and I will be funny, and everyone will like it. It's a small room and the show will sell out, so buy early.
MERLEFEST - In April we’ll play a few nights full band in the Southeast around our appearance at Merlefest (4/29), a great long-running festival honoring the late Doc Watson’s son and picking partner Merle, who died young. I got to see Doc play with Jack Lawrence once when I was a kid, still one of the best shows I ever heard. My face actually hurt from smiling when I left. I guess we’ll hit Atlanta, maybe Knoxville or Nashville, and then turn in a set at Merlefest before we head home. This year's lineup has all kinds of people I like, from Kris Kristofferson to Jim Lauderdale, whom I met last fall, and Bryan Sutton, a lights-out Nashville flat-picker who recently cut a version of my old song ‘Don’t Look for Me.' If there's a room down that way we should play, let us know.
BLOOD BROTHERS - My sixth solo record is slated for a June 15th release on my own Blueblade imprint, with a tour of the Midwest that month, and tours around the country and overseas (Europe and UK) to follow through 2018. Featuring both iterations of my touring band - Billy and Moses on rhythm, with Bo Ramsey on electric guitar and Eric Heywood on pedal steel - BLOOD BROTHERS was recorded live to tape in three days last spring at Pachyderm Studio in Cannon Falls, MN, a spiritual and sonic sequel to the Wolves album, more ballad than blues this time, a series of studies, or reveries. I just proofed the vinyl lacquer and sent it off to the plant, and I’m real excited to get it out in the world. Look for the pre-sale campaign in March.
There are more and other things I could tell you but why not save something for later? Send your friends out to where we're headed, and take care until we see you.