(A picture of the bus people prior to peachdom. Editor Ron Currens is second from left, I am third. If we all look big, it’s because we all got oversized T-shirts. I found out later that Paul Kaytes – way over on the right – attended the same Bruce Springsteen show (my first) that I did in Boston in 1977.)
Since I can’t write a week’s worth of happenings, I struggled with how best to tell this story. I’ll highlight a few things here, breaking out where it makes sense:
- First stop, Knoxville Tennessee, “a town I’d never even been close to. It turns out, on quick evaluation, to be a nice enough little college town.” One of the guys I’m with wants to get some smokes and “we find dorms all over the place, with pretty Southern women on the porches. They’re sitting outside getting ready for the band to play. The World’s Fair Park is an outdoor venue and there’s a circus-like atmosphere.”
- Unbelievably, we’re issued All-Access passes which means we can go pretty much wherever we want. Some of us on this night hang out by the soundboard, listening to the fine sounds coming from there. According to my notes they “do a long, blistering True Gravity” so that seems like as good a soundtrack as any right about now:
- According to my notes, Greenville, SC was quite the memorable show. “The band seemed to be in that magic place that they sometimes go, that only they inhabit. The crowd was ecstatic, sweat was pouring off the walls, tears were running down Ron’s face.” (I told you these were superfans.) “The walls literally shook, the doors blew off, the roof blew out, and my God, it was fantastic.”
- “I saw a few shows from backstage. The sound isn’t quite as good, but the fury is everything. Basically, backstage there are two rules: Don’t piss Kirk West off. Rule Two – when in doubt, see Rule One.”
More from my diary: “Have you ever worn a backstage pass? It’s a heady feeling, going anywhere, doing just about anything you want. People look down, see the badge and part for you to walk by, no hassle. There’s a whole scene backstage after the show of which I was unaware. People hang outside the dressing rooms just to catch a glimpse of the band. On the bus, we talked about getting close to the flame.
One time some of us were hanging outside by the buses. A security guard came up to us, pointed to some guy and said, “Do you know him? He says he knows you.” He pretended to know us – US – so he could somehow get nearer to the band. I felt for him. I think he wanted to be there more than we did. And we were powerless to do anything for him.
“Thanks for all you’re doing,” somebody yelled to us. Which was, frankly, not a hell of a lot.” (Although that said, if we happened to be hanging around, we did sometimes get pressed into doing minor stage crew stuff like packing up cables and such. Cheap labor.)
Birmingham Alabama is forever linked in my mind to those grainy black and white films of hoses being turned on black marchers in the ’60’s. I assumed the town had changed some in 30+ years and decided to check it out for myself. I took a cab downtown and the cab driver warned me about certain areas to stay out of.
Duly warned, I found my way to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame. President Clinton contributed a picture of himself playing the sax that they hung in a back room, kinda like they weren’t sure what to do with it. When I came out of there I found I wasn’t too far from the Civil Rights Institute.
When I went in, I believe I was one of the few white people there. The Institute was right across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church, legendary because Martin Luther King spoke there and notorious because of a bombing that killed four young girls in 1963.
There’s a feeling in Birmingham of history having been made and still in the making. To see that struggle being recreated over and over in news clips then walk outside and see black and white landscapers working side by side in a city with a black mayor is powerful.
The show that night at the Oak Mountain amphitheater was another terrific one. There were no bad shows on this tour. Here’s a number the band does called “No One To Run With,” a tribute to those who are no longer with us. This one’s done by a the Derek Trucks version of the band from their second home, the Beacon Theater in New York:
In case you’re wondering what the guys in the band do on their day off, wonder no more. On at least two occasions that I can recall, we stayed in the same hotel as they did, sometimes on the same floor. I seem to remember that Gregg was traveling with some sort of shaman or healer who was trying, I guess, to keep him clean and sober.
The other guys? Were they tearing up the place? Getting high? Laying waste to the town? No, they were, um, playing golf. In fact, one day several of us were in the lobby and Butch Trucks and Dickey Betts strolled in carrying their clubs.
Lacking anything else to say, I said to Dickey something like “Hey, Dickey. what are you doing man?” He said in a very low voice, “I’m just playin’ some golf.” They knew who we were. Dickey has never been a particularly friendly guy so I was surprised I got anything out of him at all. (In fairness, he did sign autographs for fans later. And how many bands really want their fans hanging around?)
Next (and final) post – Brothers of the Road. Graceland. And a few more chance encounters.
Sources: My own dim memory; Hittin’ the Note, Vols. 15 and 16.