Aretha Franklin passed away today at age 76. Pencilstorm pays tribute to the late, great Aretha Franklin in this very special edition of TV Party Tonight! Enjoy these amazing video clips of Aretha sharing her talents with the world. Rest in peace Queen of Soul.Read More
"The Mountains are calling, and I must go." - John Muir
I am a child of the mountains. Now, I don't mean that I grew up in the mountains, although I do hail from the rolling hills of Southern Ohio, which, as my Father impressed upon me at an early age, are a part of the foothills of The Appalachian Mountains. More importantly however, during my formative years, Dad took me and my younger brother on two annual trips to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, once in the Summer and once in the Fall...to "see the leaves change" as he liked to say. These trips were usually "just us boys." My Dad, brother, and I shared a special bond with each other and with the mountains, which only grew stronger with each trip.
One of the highlights of any Smokies trip is a drive over the Newfound Gap Road, which is a high mountain road that traverses the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. Dad - and later when we were old enough to drive - my brother and I loved to make a day of it. Naturally, when I got older and started taking my own vacations, I was drawn to destinations with lofty vistas. In the last two decades I have driven on as many high mountain parkways as my stomach could handle. Some people like roller-coasters: I like driving, or even better, riding shotgun, in the mountains.
One such road that I have eyed on the map since I was a kid is The Beartooth Highway, a road that runs along a stretch of border between Montana and Wyoming, and crosses Beartooth Pass at nearly 11,000 feet above sea level. It is one of the highest mountain roads in The United States, and it is only open for a small window of time in the summer. For various reasons Heather and I had never been able to drive it in the previous three times we visited the Yellowstone region, so this time I had my heart set on it.
We began the day at a rest area on I-25 south of Buffalo, Wyoming. Interestingly, the town was not named for Buffalo Bill, as was the nearby tourist town of Cody, but rather because when the time came to choose a name for their new settlement, the 30 citizens of the town put suggestions in a hat, and one man wrote his hometown of Buffalo, New York. A little farther north, near the large-by-Wyoming-standards town of Sheridan, we turned off onto US Route 14 and headed west into the town of Dayton. We always enjoy finding towns with Ohio names when we travel. Dayton, Wyoming is an exponentially smaller place than its Ohio namesake, but still large for Wyoming. Keep in mind that the entire state, which is over twice the size of Ohio, has a population smaller than the city of Columbus. These stats, however, don't take into account the millions who visit annually, but more on that in a future post.
West of Dayton, Route 14 and Alt Route 14 are known as The Bighorn Valley Scenic Byway. I am a big fan of guidebooks, and one that we brought with us on this trip is a National Geographic "Scenic Byways Of The United States" guide, which covered both this drive and The Beartooth. So we were able to stop at points of interest as we drove, and already knew something about them.
Shortly after leaving Dayton, we encountered a large number of cars parked on the side of the road, and people standing outside taking photos towards the woods. We thought it must be a bear siting, or "Bear Jam" (named for the traffic jams bear sitings cause in National Parks), but it wasn't. It was, however, a beast just as elusive...a Bull Moose! We have seen several Moose in the wild during previous travels, but they were almost always Cows, and even once a Cow and Calf. We had even seen two Bulls together years ago at Rocky Mountain National Park, but they were behind a lot of tree cover and we couldn't get a full look at them. But this guy was right out in the open munching on some Willow branches. I hate to admit it, but we spoiled it for everyone when we pulled over. Bullwinkle looked right at us as I was trying to snap his photo, and began walking away...right behind our car! We then rolled on, leaving everyone there cursing us I am sure.
About 50 miles west on the Alt 14, we came to Medicine Wheel National Historic Site, which is an ancient circle of rocks (placed there by people, not a natural formation) that is sacred to nearly all Native American tribes. Some wait their entire lives to visit "The Wheel," and it is considered such hallowed ground that some purify themselves for up to a year in preparation for their pilgrimage. After driving the side road up Medicine Mountain, we came to the visitors center, which was a glorified hut manned by two friendly rangers. One of the rangers greeted us and the others who arrived at the same time as us and explained the basics. It was a three-mile round-trip hike along the rest of the mountain road, uphill both ways. That wasn't hyperbole, as the road was laid out like the letter M. She also impressed upon us the sacred nature of the place and said that they have Native Americans come almost daily to pray and make offerings, so we should treat it with the same respect as we would any church. The hike itself wasn't terribly strenuous, as we had been preparing ourselves with hikes in Ohio over the Spring and Summer. When we reached The Wheel we were the only ones there for a few minutes, and the spiritual nature of the place was best described as eerie. The various prayer ribbons and offerings were interesting to see, and even moving. Typical offerings included tobacco, sage, bundles of herbs, flowers, and animal skulls (there were several big cattle ones). We took photos and had our moment to reflect, and back down the mountain we went.
A little further northwest we came to the town of Red Lodge, Montana, where The Beartooth Highway begins. Having waited for this drive for two decades, I can say that The Beartooth lives up to the hype. At this point in the story I should point out that Heather was driving, as nothing fazes her behind the wheel, and I nearly screamed like a little girl when I looked down at the road getting smaller and smaller way down below. After stopping at some overlooks and snapping some photos (which never do the real view any justice), we turned off the Beartooth just before Cooke City and Silvergate, Montana, which are the service towns for the northeast entrance to Yellowstone National Park. The original plan for today was to go on into Yellowstone and see the Lamar Valley before checking into our cabin near Cody, but the breathtaking views on The 'Tooth had made us lose track of time, and it was approaching evening. We headed southeast and made it to the cabin just after 9:00 pm. It was great to lay down in the super-comfy bed after two nights in the car. I fell asleep before my head hit the...
Pearl Jam / National Park Road Trip: Part Two. (Click here for part one)
Any good road trip requires some night-driving. As an avowed road hog, I learned a long time ago that you can put some serious miles behind you by driving at night, and keeping pace with the trucks.
With that in mind, this trip began at 9 pm in Columbus, and by 8:30 am we were having breakfast in Omaha, Nebraska. After that it was an all-day slog through Nebraska. I have been reading about the Lincoln Highway (US Route 30), which was the first cross-country highway in the United States. The stretch across the center of Nebraska is particularly historical, and since it pretty much runs right next to the busy Interstate 80, we decided to spend our day with a leisurely drive through the heartland of America.
The soundtrack to any long drive can greatly enhance the experience, and I am known as a guy who can pick a song for any occasion, and today was no exception. Beginning with the Counting Crows "Omaha," and continuing with the entirety of Bruce Springsteen's album Nebraska, followed by music from other Heartland heroes like John Mellencamp and Bob Seger, we rocked the day away as I drove West.
A road sign sign in the middle of the state directed us to the site of The Plum Creek Massacre, in which 11 homesteaders travelling along the Oregon Trail were attacked and killed, and two, a woman and child, were kidnapped by hostile Cheyenne warriors. You can read more about that here: [https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.kearneyhub.com/news/local/plum-creek-attack-unfolds-to-horror-of-soldiers/article_1c037340-3008-11e4-aa70-001a4bcf887a.amp.html]. We were virtually alone at this off-the-main-drag location, providing a quiet moment for reflection on the difficulties and challenges that early pioneers faced in the push to settle this land. It also was not lost on me that we had travelled in just a few hours what pioneers took months to traverse. It's a lot easier from the inside of an air-conditioned automobile, that's for sure.
Late in the night, we rolled into a rest area near Casper, Wyoming, where I kicked the seat back and took a snooze for a few hours. Tomorrow's destination is Yellowstone National Park, via The Beartooth Pass. Another long day of driving lies ahead, but the landscape is a wonderland.
"Go west young man." - Horace Greely
"The West is the best" - Jim Morrison
Kevin Montavon has visited National Parks in the 48 lower states and attended over 1,500 concerts before beginning this road trip. He also sings in the band Plow Horse.
The Vans Warped Tour, which has been a summertime institution since 1995, is in its final run. 2018 will be the last one. I grew up as a skateboarder and a punk rocker, so I can’t believe I had never been to one of these things. In the earlier days, they would have giant skate ramps and demos along with the mega-lineup of punk bands. Over the years it settled into being a day-long festival with multiple stages of punk, metal and alternative rock. A few years ago, my daughter asked me to take her to one of these but we never seemed to have a date in our area that worked. This year, I finally made it to the Vans Warped Tour stop in Columbia, MD on July 29th.
My daughter is just a few days shy of her eighteenth birthday. The Warped Tour landed in my area on a Sunday, so we made the plan to go. I am not a music festival fan. I like my rock n roll in dark, small clubs. But Warped is a single day, no camping required, lots of decent bands and I was looking forward to it. Our first stroke of luck was good weather. It was mid-eighties, crystal clear skies and not too humid. Normally the DMV (DC-MD-VA) region is hot and humid as heck with thunderstorms every evening about this time of year. Columbia, MD is home to a venue called the Merriweather Post Pavilion, about two hours from where I live. We headed out at 8:00 a.m., got in line at 10:00 and got in slightly early, at about 10:45 because we donated canned food and got in the “early entry” line. So here’s what you need to know about my experience at Vans Warped 2018, including some tips:
There were six stages and probably 50 bands. The set times for each band are not announced until the morning of the show when you get there. The website said there would be a huge scoreboard-style display of the schedule, but at our stop, there was only photo-copied handouts which people were standing in a long line to get for $2. We instead got a nice young lady to let us take a photo of hers – no line, no $2. Good start.
It is important to note that each band starts EXACTLY on time and plays for EXACTLY 30 minutes. With a schedule now comfortably stored on my daughter’s phone, we laid out our plan. Where to be and when was critical. For example, my daughter’s top priority was to see Waterparks, a pop-punk outfit from Texas. We plotted to get to that stage just as the prior band was ending so we could plow to the front while people were leaving (there was a thirty minute break between bands). It worked perfectly. All day long, we got good spots near the front when we wanted them, and relaxed toward the back when we needed a break.
My top choice for the day was a band called Palaye Royale. Their stage was one of the smaller ones and the crowd wasn’t huge, so we had no problems seeing them. They were spectacular by the way. Definitely an act to see live.
One of our other priorities was a band called Motionless In White. They played on a stage in a hot parking lot with a huge crowd and no shade in sight, so we were in the back for that one. They inspire a pretty intense mosh pit as well, which we were not up for.
The merch tables were awesome. You could spend A LOT of money just visiting all the great merch tents. The food was not very good and beers were $11 so I did not drink anything but water all day.
It’s worth noting that the kids at Vans love to crowd surf. So if you get up front, like we did for Waterparks, be ready to hoist some sweaty bodies over your head. You don’t want the be that person that drops someone. That’s not cool. Crowd surfing was non-stop at almost every set we saw.
As luck would have it, our well thought out plan for the day had the last couple of hours primarily at the biggest stage, which is in the big pavilion, under cover in the shade.
We saw one band that was totally out of character. They were called This Wild Life. They joked about being a soft rock band; a white trash acoustic duo, I think they said. They played guitars and kick drums. It was just two of them. They were mellow but very good and a nice change of pace. My daughter met them and picked up their $5 CD, signed of course. The tip here is to keep an open mind, you never know who you might discover you like. There’s a ton of bands at Warped, and you wouldn’t likely know them all.
When all was said and done, we saw, in this order, the following bands: The Maine, Waterparks, Palaye Royale, Motionless In White, Real Friends, This Wild Life, Movements, Falling In Reverse. The music began at 11:30 a.m. and went until 9:00 p.m. At 30 minutes per set, we saw 4 hours of live music (plus smatterings of multiple other bands). We bought some souvenirs, we ate a little food and we had an awesome day. My kid leaves for college in a few days, so the chance to spend an entire day with her, bonding over our shared love of music was priceless.
The Vans Warped Tour will likely be over and done for good before you read this, but if it comes back, I recommend it if you have the right person to attend with. Luckily, I did.
Ricki and JCE (John, to his friends & family) first bonded over their shared mutual love of Boston's Finest Sons - The Neighborhoods - and everything extended out from that rock & roll ripple. JCE lives in Culpeper, Virginia with his wife & daughter, and thinks a long-rumored new Neighborhoods record being released in 2018 would make this a perfect year.
Kevin Montavon has visited National Parks in the 48 lower states and attended over 1,500 concerts before beginning this road trip. He also sings in the band Plow Horse.
On April 11th, 1992, I tuned into Saturday Night Live because 1) I was home on a Saturday night, and 2) I wanted to see the band that was scheduled to play. Having spent the previous five years spinning records on college radio, I was a fan of the emerging Seattle band Mother Love Bone, who had been at the cusp of superstardom when their lead singer Andrew Wood died of a heroin overdose on the eve of the release of their major-label album debut. I was aware that Love Bone guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament had a new band, but in those pre-internet days it wasn't as easy to check out a new band as it is today. You couldn't just click on a readily available YouTube clip.....you actually had to take a chance and (*gasp*) PURCHASE records. And as of that night, I had not made the effort to check out the new band.
Their performance started innocently enough, the singer seeming almost reserved in his gas station attendant's jacket and backwards ballcap. As the song went on, the performance became more and more animated. I could tell these guys were really feeling the music. The singer seemed almost lost in a world of his own, and by the time the lead guitarist took a solo, the entranced vocalist was shaking so hard that his cap went flying off and a mop of curly hair came spilling out from underneath. There was now an added visual element, this chaotic whirlwind of action and flying hair. Meanwhile, Ament ran paces behind him like a tiger locked in a tight cage, jumping and crouching with the various moods of the song. These guys were thrashing around like the speed metal bands that I was so fond of at the time, but the song they were playing was more like something out of my older brother's Classic Rock Album collection.
The song was called "Alive," the lead guitarist's name was Mike McCready, and the enigmatic singer was a cat named Eddie Vedder. The band of course was Pearl Jam. I bought their album Ten the next day, and a few months later saw them live for the first time. It was on the Lollapalooza II Tour; along with Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ministry, Soundgarden, Ice Cube, Front 242, and Lush. Pearl Jam were the second band on stage that day, but played as if they were the headliners. At one point during a long jam in the song "Porch," Eddie Vedder climbed the stage rigging all the way to the top, walked across the canvas roof of the stage.....which drooped low with every step, swung back down the rigging on the other side using just his arms, jungle gym style, and perched himself about 30 feet above the audience. And then.....he just let go and dropped, disappearing into the crowd. I thought for certain that he must be dead. It took ten more minutes of their set for security guards to fish him out of the massive crowd, but he emerged unscathed and finished the song! It was the single most insane thing that, to this day, I have seen someone do onstage. What I didn't know at the time was that this maniac was doing this at every show!
I became an even bigger fan, Vedder in particular becoming a huge influence on my own forays into becoming a singer, songwriter, and performer myself. Over the years I would see them a few more times in concert, but in 2006 I took my girlfriend Heather to see them in Pittsburgh.....and I created a monster. She was so caught up in the atmosphere of a Pearl Jam concert that she became a completely obsessed fanatic. She spent months learning the words to every song, hung up pictures of Eddie at work like a lovestruck teenager, and even joined the "Ten Club" band fanclub. Since that time we have seen 12 additional Pearl Jam shows together, often traveling long distances to shows, and even basing entire vacations around seeing multiple dates.
Which brings us to today: earlier this year Pearl Jam announced "The Home Shows" and "The Away Shows." These are 7 concerts in four cities, mostly in baseball stadiums, and one small football stadium. Heather was able to buy tickets through the Ten Club lottery system for the two shows at SafeCo Field in Seattle, as well as the show at Washington Grizzlies Stadium in Missoula, Montana, hometown of Jeff Ament.
Now, Heather and I also love to visit the National Parks of The United States. When our vacations aren't spent following bands around we use them to see our nation's impressive system of parks, monuments, memorials, historic sites, battlefields, and military cemeteries. Over the last two decades we have managed to visit most of the major units in the Lower 48 states, some multiple times. So when the opportunity presented itself to combine our two favorite things: travelling to parks, and seeing Pearl Jam concerts, we immediately set the plan in motion.
So now the tickets are procured; the car is rented; cabins, hotels, and campsites are booked, with other accommodations to be found on the fly; vacation time has been granted from our respective employers; and we are hitting the highway on The Great American Roadtrip 2018: Pearl Jam Edition! Sixteen days on the highways & byways of these United States, with stops in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, Mt. Rainier, North Cascades, Glacier, and Badlands National Parks; Devils Tower and Mt. Rushmore National Monuments; and Little Bighorn National Battlefield.
A popular saying these days is "You only live once." This is true, and I appreciate that fact and always try to make the most out of the one life I am living. I am also fond of another saying made popular by some of the great people I have met on the road, and that is, "Always go to the show." In this case, even if the show is 2,433 miles away.
This piece originally ran back in October of 2014, and Pencilstorm management is reprinting it now to encourage all of our readers to travel to the Ohio State Fair this Saturday, August 4th, to see the mighty Cheap Trick open for Styx. (And let's face facts, it's gonna be an early night for ya, NOBODY in their right frickin' rock & roll minds would stay for Styx's entire set.)
The Watershed show opening for Cheap Trick at the House Of Blues in Myrtle Beach, S.C. last week went great, there'll be various blogs about different aspects of the trip over the next coupla weeks, here's the first installment.
Tale # 1
Ricki C. - Classic merch moment: At a bar adjacent to the Myrtle Beach House of Blues where we're all kicking back after the show, Watershed drummer Dave Masica walks up to me with a "Why Isn't Cheap Trick in the Rock & Hall of Fame" t-shirt draped over his shoulder. He pulls it off, hands it to me and says, "That guy over there wants to buy this, but I didn't know what to tell him, or how much they cost. I told him to talk to you."
"Where did you get this?" I ask Dave. (We had WICTITR&RHOF t's at the show, but weren't selling them. We brought them for Colin to throw out into the audience as prizes during a quiz in the middle of set-ender "The Best Is Yet To Come.") "I found it on the floor of the dressing room," Dave answers. I shrug my shoulders, walk over to the guy and charge him 20 bucks for the shirt we normally sell for $15. (I had come up $10 short on my merch totals that night according to Watershed road manager extraordinaire Michael "Biggie" McDermott, and figured this was my best shot at turning that deficit into a surplus.) (By the way, I probably came up short because I left Colin in charge of the merch table while Biggie & I loaded out the gear after Watershed's set and Colin gave stuff away.)
Later that night, at yet another bar, Colin asks me if I picked up his WICTITR&RHOF shirt from the dressing room and I realize that I have unwittingly sold the sweaty, crummy t-shirt Colin had been wearing most of that day to some unsuspecting Rick Nielsen fan, who thought he was getting high-quality Cheap Trick merch. Ooops. Open message to random drunk Myrtle Beach guy: I'll make it up to you someday down the road.
Tale # 2
Colin G. - So after we finished our set opening for Cheap Trick, I fight my way through the crowd to head out by the merch table because sometimes it helps to sell stuff if a band member is there bullshitting. Ricki C. uses this opportunity to jam me there alone while making sure Biggie didn't need help backstage. I suspect he was going to the dressing room to make a peanut butter sandwich, but I can't prove it.
Anyway, it's kinda slow because people are waiting for Trick to come on, but one middle-aged woman is slowing picking up Watershed CDs and very thoroughly looking them over. Eventually she looks up at me and asks, "Which one has all the songs I know on it?"
"Come again?" I reply.
"Which one of these CDs has the songs I know on it?"
This was a tricky question. See, with a band of our stature people usually know all of our songs or, as is much more likely, none of our songs. Thankfully, she could see I was struggling and added, "What's that one…..'I Want You to Want Me.'"
"Oh, that is a Cheap Trick song. That CD you are holding says Watershed on it. See right there? (I pointed to the big word Watershed on the front cover.) That means it's a Watershed CD, not a Cheap Trick CD."
"So you aren't in Cheap Trick?"
"No, I'm in Watershed"
Never mind I had just come off stage and was still wearing my Watershed Hitless Wonder blue jumpsuit
"Do you have any Cheap Trick CDs to sell?"
Colin G. - So now I am standing at the merch table with Ricki, Dave and Joe after Cheap Trick is done and it is mayhem. People are stacked three deep buying CDs, books, T-shirts, etc. and being good rock soldiers we are chatting with folks, offering to sign stuff and all that.
A woman leans forward and says loudly above the din of post show chaos, "Do you know who Richard Petty is?"
"Excuse me?" I said, not quite sure I was hearing her right.
"I said, DO YOU KNOW WHO RICHARD PETTY IS???" This time she said it quite loudly and seemed a little upset.
"Uh, like Richard Petty the race car driver?" was my unsure reply, spoken like a clueless Yankee.
"Yes, that one. You know, he told his sons that if they ever wanted to be famous they needed to write their names legibly so people can read them."
"You want me to sign my name more like Richard Petty's sons?"
"You already signed but I can barely read it. And you never even asked my name."
I mounted a weak defense: "Well, at least we are out here signing and being friendly. Doesn't that count for something? Besides, see that guy right there, he is an author and is really smart, I bet he will ask your name."
"Well, if you want to be famous and get on TV you better learn to write your autograph better, like Richard Petty's kids do."
Right then Joe O. leaned in and asked who he should sign this book to.
"Ha! Told you he would ask," I said, triumphant at the end.