My comrade and I hit the road on Friday for Lexington, Kentucky on the spur of the moment. Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Picket Line were playing a benefit for the Eastern Hemlock (the Grand Dame of indigenous trees) which has recently suffered from an invasive insect. Will Oldham shows are often more events than concerts and the 5 1/2 hour drive was seen as no barrier and was made quicker by good music and conversation. The conversation, not surprisingly, focused on capital’s homogenization of the landscape as evidenced by the entire ride down the highway.
I’ll leave a review of the show to others. Needless to say the sound system was also suffering from some sort of blight, but the Bonnie Prince and band did their best to salvage a set including a haunting rendition of Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come”.
Once we got across the Ohio River and the Mason Dixon Line we tooled the back roads into Lexington on a cold day. Once we passed the final outer ‘burbs of Cincinnati the landscape changed to rolling horse farms. Mile after mile of old stone “slave fences” (rough, unmortared field stone not necessarily, but sometimes, made by slaves) and beautiful black wood fences lined our way. The sun creating brilliant shadows through the slats across the road. I am used to seeing Kentucky as a somewhat deprived state, and in many ways it is. How many times have I seen Harlan County, USA? Not so in these parts.
All the world’s super-rich so inclined to equestrian pursuits have a horse farm in Central Kentucky It seems rich people just dig horses. Or maybe it helps them act out some sort of feudal fantasy. Just like the spreads of millionaires who retire to cowboy fantasies on ranches out West these compounds looked more like country clubs than working farms. Everyone who’s anyone, from the Sultan of Brunei to Queen of England, have a spot. The miles of dry fence hewn from the field stones of cleared land perfectly hugged the road giving the landscape an idealized New England feel.
Cincinnati is home to a certain kind of chili, often topping a dog and smothered in something like cheese. As soon as I approach the metro area my nose picks it up and my mouth begins to water. We ate half a dozen coneys and blessed the food gods for deliverance on the trip down. About 20 miles north of Cincinnati the Waffle House becomes ubiquitous only increasing in frequency the further south one goes. We stopped counting after a dozen or so. An early breakfast there before coming back left several questions like “are those real eggs, and if so how do they get so fluffy?” and “is this coffee or bacon drippings?”
In between these two meals a frightening amount of McDonald’s cheese burgers were had leaving an intense feeling of distress on our systems for the return drive. Good to get out of town after a hard week at the coal face. Reminder to self: next time bring the camera and a bag of apples and homemade granola forgoing road food entirely.
Thanks to my buddy for doing the heavy lifting and to Will Oldham for, yet again, providing a damned good reason to get out of town. And now back to work.
Photo from Backseat Sandbar which also has a review of the show.
Terra Haute is about an hour and a half from Bloomington.
And it just so happens there is a terrific Debs museum there (http://www.eugenevdebs.com/).
I love it when class struggle history and Will Oldham feature into the same road trip. My bags are packed already.
Nothing like the old growth Hemlocks of the Porkies– the Jewel in Michigan’s Rusty Crown. And the Hocking Hills are something else as well. Brad- thanks for the videos. I wonder if Bloomington is anywhere near the place Debs made his start. Might be fun to find remnants of Eugene’s remarkable life on the way down…sans fast food.
Good Kentucky drives:
I’ve always heard it was slaves, however I just found this:
In fact, this part of Kentucky is home to the most extensive collection of dry masonry quarried stone fences still standing in the United States today. Known locally as slave fences, they were actually built by Irish stonemasons who immigrated into the Bluegrass in the early to mid-l9th century. These masons passed the craft along to slaves who became master artisans themselves and further passed the craft on to other black artisans, giving rise to the popular labeling of the rock fences as “slave walls”.”
Some of the Great hemlock stands around can be found in Cook Forest in pennsylvania, Hocking hill in Ohio and the Porcupine mountains in the UP. Nothing better the sitting by a creek in hemlock forest in climax.
The Great Eastern Hemlock:
That version of “A Change is Gonna Come” was stunning. This is a guy who has covered everything from R. Kelly to the Misfits, and we saw him play his most deft card yet. Stirring.
He’s is playing again in March in Bloomington, Indiana. Google Maps says it’s only an hour farther than Lexington. There is really nothing finer than a lazy road trip to see Will Oldham recraft his songbook on the fly.
Although, personally, I’m never eating fast food again. Ever.
Youtube of the show:
A Change is Gonna Come
Ohio River Boat Song