Keyboardist-singer-songwriter Chad Staehly of Dirty Impound faves Great American Taxi brings us another tale from GAT’s recent travels.
Well, we all knew it was the back-breaker of the summer and when it got put up on the calendar we all cringed a little bit but decided we’d pull it off knowing things would slow down considerably afterwards…
I guess you never know what’s going to happen when you head out on “tour”, but this one in particular had all the ingredients for a screenplay writing itself as we went, some type of rockumentary or hard luck movie. Not much comes easy when you and four other guys pile into a Chevrolet Suburban, which for all intent and purposes turns into your home for the coming weeks. Yeah, you know, five grown men, well, “grown” might be exaggerating a bit, after all. I don’t know that anyone in our Suburban would admit to having “grown up” yet; we’re all under-developed enough to live in a sport utility vehicle for 3 weeks. Oh yeah, we didn’t live in the Suburban the entire stretch, we decided that we’d skip sleep for two nights and take a detour to Alaska on the big bird. After we had plotted a course from Colorado to California and then back across to Chicago, Cleveland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Michigan, we got a call from our new found friend Jim Stearn about being part of Salmonstock 2011 in Ninilchik, AK, which would be a music festival designed to raise awareness and funds to stop the Pebble Mine on the Kenai Peninsula. We all decided that any chance to go to Alaska is always welcomed and the fact that we could go and play music and be part of a good cause would make it all worthwhile despite having to skip a couple of nights sleep.
We played three shows in California culminating at one of our little favorite stop-offs the last few summers in Willits, CA at Dead On The Creek. A posh little boutique festival thrown on Uncle John’s property, the fine proprietor of the event and its’ home, you have to go to this one to believe it. There are only 150 reservations for each day of the event, but purchased access provides you with three incredible meals (all prepared from local ingredients), a gorgeous Mendocino hills setting, all the beer and wine you’d like to drink, and a beautiful plot of land to put your tent up on. There’s plenty more offered as well as part of the “package” but I’ll leave that for you to go experience. GAT has played some epic shows there in the last couple of years, having played last year for close to seven hours and the year before for five and a half hours. It was tough to leave it at a three and half hour show this year but we had to drive down to Sacramento and catch a flight to Anchorage.
There’s the old adage “when it rains it pours” and most of us in the band lately have had some heavy life stuff happening and no one more than our own fearless leader and ferocious frontman Vince Herman. Vince lost his dad back in February and his mom has been sick as well, both of them having been diagnosed with advanced cancer within weeks of each other. Vince has been back and forth to Pittsburgh many times this year between the 90 shows we’ve already done this year, all the while being a father to his two sons Silas and Colin back in Nederland, CO, and maybe trying to have some type of personal life beyond all that. It’s been a rough ride and it got tougher as Vince attempted to leave Alaska early to be with his mom for her last days. Unfortunately Sally Herman had to depart this world before Vince was able to make it back. It’s these kinds of real life situations that make you sit back and really ask yourself if life on the road and trying to be an artist is worth all the sacrifice that has to be made. Fortunately on the other side of our profession you do get chunks of time to yourself and can make your own schedule so Vince did get to spend some time with his mother before we started the tour and got a chance to bid farewell as best one can. Our hearts were breaking for Vince and we wondered what to do with the band while he had to attend to his family and loved ones as well as a funeral and memorial. We were in the middle of our last tour for the summer and weren’t quite sure what to do as far as playing the shows or canceling them.
Already a night later we had a gig in Homer, AK to consider, and then we had gigs the rest of the week back on the main land. None of us could afford to lose out on the money and we also knew it was too late to really cancel anything so the rest of us decided we’d carry the shows without Vince. First night in Homer happened to be the 16th anniversary of Jerry Garcia’s death so we had that to use as a foundation for the show material wise as well as our good buddy and folk singer extraordinaire Jim Page on hand to help us out, too. The audience was ready to roll and pushed us forward and gave us enough confidence and energy to play the show for them as well the next few nights we’d have to play without our frontman and friend. We met back up with Vince for Bear’s Picnic in Laurelton, PA a week later and were lucky to have so many friends around to help out. New Riders of the Purple Sage and 7 Walkers were there, amongst others, and some of them came out and joined us during our set including Buddy Cage on pedal steel, Mookie Siegel on accordion and Vince’s son Silas joined us for a few, too. It was almost a New Orleans kind of approach to the whole set as a great big homage unfolded to Vince’s mom, who he referred to during the set as an “American Beauty.”
We slugged out another week in the bars in Pennsylvania, Ohio and other points before we would end up at another favorite of ours the last few years, Hoxeyville Music Festival in Wellston, MI. More friends were there including Greensky Bluegrass and our co-conspirator Todd Snider. We got to play double duty that day, playing a set of Great American Taxi music and backing up Todd for a set as well. Snider was in a particularly loose mood and rearranged most of his hits onstage with a slower, boozy Stones kind of vibe. We chugged along and ended the 12,500 mile ride on a high note. Well, it was only 11,000 miles at that point – we still had to drive the rig back from Wellston, MI to Colorado. Just another 1200 miles and we’re home, and you realize once again that your band of brothers are just that, brothers who you have highs and lows with, who you want to tell off at points, who you want to…well you know what I mean. It’s just like growing up back in the olden days.
Oh yeah, one more thing, as we were traveling these 12,000-plus miles, wizard engineer and good friend Eric McConnell from East Nashville was sending us mixes of the songs for the new record, and via email we finished mixing the new GAT LP release, Paradise Lost. We’re really proud of this record and can’t wait for folks to hear it. We’re hoping to have it out for consumption in the next month…Stay tuned.