4/22-23: Charlottesville, VA with Oil Derek and Red Knierim; Bristol radio with Kris Truelsen

4/22 – 23

Slept so deeply in my brother’s guest bed it was hard to pull myself out. But the sun coming into the 30th floor window was pretty hot. Surprising then how cool it was when we both went outside and had breakfast at Old John’s Cafe (or something…) which we mixed up with Uncle John’s (Band, a song by the Grateful Dead). It was a treat to have poached eggs, potatoes and sourdough toast for breakfast while catching up with Braxton. I slipped one of the two slices of toast into a pocket of my green denim jacket for later.

The ride to Charlottesville, VA from New York was supposed to take about six hours but the traffic en route was relentless, as was my sleepiness. I seem to get more sleepy when listening to the British accent of the reader of my current audiobook, The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity by David Graeber and David Wengrow, which is a fascinating and complex book whose objective is reevaluating common notions of human history, especially prehistory – the agricultural revolution in particular, adding complexity and nuance to them with a lot of empirical observation. So to avoid getting too sleepy I occasionally switch over to some music – Yes, Rush, and Metallica on this day. Renting a recently-produced car with a nice sound system has been eye-opening about how records I love can actually sound! There are so many subtleties to this music I haven’t picked up on by listening through the bluetooth speaker that is my best sound producer at home!

So this drive stretched on and on, until I finally showed up at Dürty Nelly’s in Charlottesville, Virgina where Oil Derek had set up a show. I found a parking spot in a closed chicken restaurant (“We put the cluck in chicken” … or something?), went in the door past the Starship Troopers pinball machine, entered the long wooden hallway with stone fireplace and a painting holding an actual cigarette, saw Derek directly in front of me, and gave him a hug. He had been trying to find my phone number to call me.

The music had already started, Red Knierim was playing. I looked at him and he grinned at me really big – as if to say “it’s really you!” This was one of those moments when I hear someone play on stage and just can’t believe it. “No… this can’t be as good as it is…” until slowly the reality sinks in. “Yes… Red Knierim is the real deal.” He sang in a low baritone reminiscent of Bill Callahan’s but really sang more than he does. His guitar playing is a fingerpicking sturmming style, bluesy with a lot of popping strings. And the lyrics are rhythmic, soulful, down home, wide-eyed, in awe of life… just fuckin’ great. I noticed that a few of the audience members seemed to have big, wide grins like his and, sure enough, his family was there.

Derek asked me if I wanted to jump up next but I was still a bit unsettled from the ride so I asked him if he would. He played through a beautiful Epiphone Casino and sang in his clear higher baritone (I don’t really know how to use these terms) that is so beautiful. He has a beautiful singing voice. And his lyrics deal so much with the natural world and make you feel like you’re in the most mystical solitude overlooking vast expanses. And beautiful fingerpicked guitar. It was such a pleasure to hear him play again.

It turns out that Derek and Red had often hung out at this bar and then at least sometimes gone home and listened to my records. I couldn’t believe it… But I felt pretty nervous playing for this crowd, which was quite different than the one I’d played for at the PIT in New York. But as it turns out, I really play about the same thing and it works, to some degree, everywhere. But I probably wouldn’t venture too far into dressing up in drag and singing harsh unaccompanied stuff like “Holy Acid USA” that, honestly, most people seem to hate, which I write with a smile on my face, loving that fact. Anyway, people mostly seemed to love what I played, which I was grateful for, and I had some interesting meetings afterwards. One was with Tara, who lived in France for one year when she was 9 and now lives with her 93-year-old mother, taking care of her. Her mother is an artist, she says, and she really loves her. She said her French was rusty but wanted to speak and she spoke really well, in the way that you can tell she’s lived with it. She played me a song she wrote on Bill’s guitar called “I love the mailman” which also included a French verse “J’aime le facteur”. She also brought sunflowers to each of us three who sang that night. There was also Johnny, who was also interested in France, because his ancestors were French colonists of New France, which is now Quebec. He also was into unaccompanied singing, and he sang me part of a mining disaster ballad that he said he sang to his daughter when she was a baby. As I remember it, it was the disaster of “Miningtown,” but that seems too close to the word “mining” – maybe someone (Johnny?) can help me remember the actual name of the place where “72 (?) miners uselessly died” due to “unsafe conditions” in the ______ mine.

Around midnight everyone was gone except me, Red, his partner (I need help remembering her name), Coda who was in charge of the show and whose amp (“The Accomplice”) we borrowed, Derek, and two dogs, Elko (Derek’s: “He’s obsessed with me”) and _____ (Red + partner’s). It turns out Red & his partner are really into Cast King and the Saw Mill Man album and we sang some of the songs together. Amazing! It makes sense given how his music sounds.

But I had to hit the road and so I did, because I needed to get to Bristol to play on Kris Truelsen’s radio show. I had to be there by 9:30 AM and it was a 4-hour drive away, so my plan was to drive as long as I could and take naps at rest stops along the way, which I did. This was kind of a magical experience though it got quite cold–in the mid-30s–and I used the towel I borrowed from the Downers as a blanket, and put my jacket over my face to block out the lights. I slept about an hour and got back on the road, driving under the nearly-full moon and listening to one of my all-time favorite albums, Relayer by Yes. This felt just great. Then I got sleepy again and had to pull over at another rest stop to sleep another stretch. When I woke up this time the sun was all the way up. I got back on the road and listened to Yes’s Tormato – also so, so good.

I arrived at the Birthplace of Country Music museum in Bristol, where the radio show is broadcast from, early enough to take another nap in the car, and drink a cup of cold-brew coffee that I had with me. The caffeine, the lack of sleep, and the idea of playing live on the radio made me kind of jittery, but I think it turned out well. It was really fun to see Kris, who I barely know but who I admire a lot, and who was so easy to chat with that the time flew by and I was out of there almost immediately. Now I’m catching up on rest in a motel and getting ready for the Knoxville show tomorrow. I’ll be there tomorrow, with good ol’ Weird Ian.

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