Great American Taxi keyboardist-singer Chad Staehly brings us another tale from GAT’s recent travels.
We had been thinking there needed to be a John Hartford music festival for quite some time so when we heard that John Hotzie was putting one together with the Dillman family at the legendary Bill Monroe Music Park in Bean Blossom, IN, we didn’t even bother asking what they wanted to pay us. We were going to be there regardless.
It turned out that we’d basically be shooting halfway across the country in a matter of four days, a quick in and out with the destination being Bean Blossom. We added two bar gigs in Lincoln, NE and Iowa City to help us make our way to Kalamazoo, MI for a date with our good friends [and Impound favorites] Greensky Bluegrass. We were joining them for night one at their annual event opening up the beer garden at band favorite Bell’s Brewery. We were thinking about the Two-Hearted Ale the whole way.
The trip started in a sort of foreboding way as we discussed what to do with the new songs and record Todd Snider had just helped us produce in East Nashville. What’s a band to do that’s been grinding out 160-plus days on the road for the last few years and selling only several thousand of their last CD release, all the while barely making a living? Do we give the songs/album away? Do we quit touring and become a YouTube band? We discussed our lives and how it fit into the life we’ve built in Great American Taxi. I don’t know that we ever came up with a definite answer after hours of discussion…for now it was onto the next show.
Lincoln and Iowa CIty were just that, a couple of bar gigs, but GAT always manages to have fun each and every night, even when the deck is really stacked against us. We finally had a bunch of ears to play to at Bell’s Brewery and then things started to look a lot better all of the sudden. There was a fun jam at the end of the show with GSBG and a great party at Ander Beck’s (GSBG’s dobro maestro) girlfriend’s place in Kalamazoo. These kinds of nights usually wash away the bar gigs, the hard miles and the mountain we’re usually climbing. Plus, we had the 1st Annual John Hartford Memorial Music Festival the next day. We were headlining the last night of the festival and used the few gigs leading up to it to learn some more Hartford tunes, including “Tall Buildings,” “Up On The Hill Where They Do The Boogie,” “Back In The Goodle Days” and a few others.
This was my first trip to Bean Blossom and it was great to check this one off the list. It’s a great site and you could feel the banjos and mandolins in the air. There was definitely a spirit to the place. We had been hearing how much fun everyone had been having all weekend and how great the weather was. We got there in time to hear Jamie Hartford (John’s son) play as well as Tim O’Brien, Danny Barnes and Bawn In The Mash. By the time our set was coming up, the weather had turned violent and the promoters decided it was best to shut down the main stage. Well shit, we had just driven 1500 miles and played 3 gigs in 3 days to get here and now we were getting shut down on our main set of the whole run.
Luckily our drummer Chris Sheldon had packed up his patented “Banjotron” (this is a drum kit made out of a banjo and a plastic Samsonite brief case – you’ve got to see it to believe it). As a keyboard player who gets left out of most late night “picks,” I’ve been bringing along a melodica (which is basically a keyboard that you blow air through to make the sound) to be able to play some campfire or campground music with all the pickers. Okay, GAT will play unplugged in the pavilion up at the top of the hill. We left the trailer worth of gear tucked away safely from the elements on the main stage and headed for the pavilion.
Within 10 minutes, there was a makeshift plywood stage made out of a couple of tables and the band was getting ready. A few hundred people gathered and Vince led the charge with John Hartford sing-alongs that had everyone grinning and singing (somewhere in the middle of it all you had to think Hartford himself was behind the mischief as it started to just seem too perfect that this was how it was all ending up). In the music business we’ve learned to live by the mantra “improvise, overcome and adapt.” I think most bands would have packed it up and left the festival without playing. GAT ended up playing for the faithful until 2 a.m. and then packed up the trailer. The audience was more than appreciative and we all might have had the best time anyone had all weekend.
We were back on the road by 3:30 a.m. and heading back to Denver. 2600 miles and four shows in four days and we’re back home and still wondering what we should do with the new record and if the band can keep up this kind of pace without anything but the love of music propelling it all. (Chad Staehly)
Take the Impound’s advice and SUPPORT this band. They are the kind of rock ‘n’ roll band folks like to say they don’t make anymore – all the fundamentals in place, chops to spare, giant hearts, sturdy as shit songwriting and charming live performers. Pick up their albums here, and peep their tour dates here.