DerekFromCincinnati - 6/4/2007 at 11:53 PM
I grab up my gear and close the van door, thanking my mother for dropping me off at the train station at 2am in the morning. I’ve enjoyed riding trains over the years, and Amtrak train number 50, known as the Cardinal, is a direct shot from Cincinnati, Ohio to Huntington, West Virginia, my destination. As soon as I get there I check in with the Amtrak employee who runs the station overnight. He tells me that the train is running late. Once in Huntington, I will hookup with my uncle Wormy and prepare to go the Appalachian Uprising music festival held nearby.
The train station is in the beautiful and historic building called Union Terminal. The unusually shaped half dome limestone structure was built in 1933 and received a National Historic Landmark declaration 43 years later. These days it not only houses the train station, but the Cincinnati Museum Center. But, as I walk into the huge art deco rotunda, filled with 1932-era murals made of mosaic tiles and painted stucco, most of the lights are out, and every step echoes throughout the lightly inhabited building.
The waiting area at the Cincinnati train station is nice, but stark. The seats are of a design that is not conducive for long time comfort. There is no way to stretch out on them in any sort of sleepable way. That became more apparent each time the Amtrak clerk made yet another announcement about the delay of train 50. Departure time was to be at 3:07am. At about 4am we were advised that the train would be arriving an hour later.
Life at 4am in a station can be interesting. There were probably about 20 people waiting there, with no radio or TV to keep them occupied. Either you kept to yourself and read a magazine or book, or position yourself into some God-awful way as to at least pretend that you’re achieving some non-REM sleep, or you talk to other pissed yet bored individuals near you. One conversation in front of me went from “Who likes to gamble? Got any dice?” to a conversation about Jesus and the signs of the end times.
The announcement that the train would arrive, after yet another delay, at 5:30am sent the largest collective groan through the captive audience yet. As this Coen Brothers movie that I was inhabiting continued, the only thing to do was to get up and walk around and take a closer look at the impressive 105-foot by 20-foot Americana-themed murals, which apparently were ‘commissioned to the German-born artist Winold Reiss in 1932.’ Good for you, Herr Winnie.
I was so tired, frustrated, and bored (sounds like a Derek Trucks song) that I actually tried to see if I could sleep while standing up, which I have heard some folks can do. It didn’t quite work. All I did was open my eyes and see others staring at me, wondering what I was doing, watching me because they were as bored as I was. At about 4:37am I am sitting in a chair and realize that I can read a clock by its opposite reflection in a window across the room that lined up just right from where I was sitting. Purgatory.
Because of a combination of bad track in Indiana, a summertime heat alert that kept the trains from going over 70 miles per hour, and a slow freight train up ahead of the Amtrak train, I didn't leave on the train until 6am. Amtrak train seats have a lot of room, and the large amount of passengers that got off of the train in the early morning light was in my favor- good chance that I would get the coveted window seat. Even better, as I ended up in a sparsely populated section where I could take over both seats. That meant that I could easily stretch out a bit and snooze.
Although I wasn’t in a sleeper car, the key to sleeping on a train is to bring your own pillow. Delay or not, it is much better to ride on a train than on a bus, if the logistics line up right. And, most trains have a diner car to boot. Lights out after the train left the station - a fairly comfortable position culled out of the available space on the cushioned seats - the sound and feel of the train as it went down the tracks - I slept like a baby.
After arriving in Huntington about 10am, my uncle Wormy picks me up and we proceed to get ready for three days of camping at the Appalachian Uprising. By Wednesday afternoon I was sitting on a wooden porch at a spread in the Appalachian foothills in southern Ohio just across the river. My uncle and I went to see his friend Couch, who lives on the land with his lady Doneda who raises the horses that fill their barns and run their land. Couch is an old timer that enjoys a beverage or three, on a daily basis. Understanding the man when he speaks is an art form, as there are times when an interpreter is needed after 10 beers or so.
Uncle Wormy and Couch have known each other for many years. It is a hot day, and while we watched a hawk riding a very high thermal above the treetops, and listened to the unmistakable call of a neighbor's peacocks, there was beer on ice and conversation rolling. Couch proceeds to tell us that since his heart surgery, there has not been one day that he hasn’t drank a 20 pack of bottled Budweiser. He also tells us how sore he is today, as he decided to get on a green horse after a few beers a couple of days ago, and ended up with the whole saddle sliding off and throwing Couch to the ground. Sitting in his porch chair, it hurt him to just to cross his legs.
As the afternoon progresses, a guy rides up the drive in a small car and walks up on the porch. I never did get the guys name, Uncle Wormy did not know him, but the man was a friend of Couch’s. The old guy had long white hair, skinny as a rail, not one tooth to be found, and a penchant for partying. Somehow we got on the conversation about a friend of Uncle Wormy’s named Johnson who has not only been married six times, but has married two different women twice each. There are few, if any, other examples of a man marrying two women twice. Wormy says that Johnson does it because he is addicted to wedding cake. After Johnson’s mathematical marriage configuration is explained to the old timer sitting in front of us a few times, he looks down, shaking his head, and then looks back up and says, “I’ll tell you this, I’ve been to three world’s fairs, been to five goat ropin's, and four public f***ings, and I ain’t never heard or seen anything as crazy as that.”
As my time in the ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou’ Holideck continued, Couch keeps handing me ice cold Buds, and I just sit back and enjoy the show. I learn that back when they were young men, the old timers of their day would tell them, ‘Keep a women well-pleasured, son, and she’ll walk around the house with a dust cloth in each apron pocket and will whistle with a smile on her face while she’s a mopping the floors.’ Ladies, hold back now, as these boys are already taken!
Then subject of Wormy and Couch’s friend named Alligator came up, specifically about Alligator's son, Theodore Church, who is in the service in Iraq flying helicopters. Known by the name of Turk, this man was a bit wild as a teenager and young adult. Turk had a pot leaf tattooed on his butt back in his rebellious days, and would get into trouble now and again. But, after he joined the service he turned it around and became a responsible guy, a great family man, and was a good guy to talk to according to all on the porch. Turk grew up in South Point, Ohio, a town a few miles up the Ohio River that is the southern most point in the Buckeye State.
On Memorial Day 2007, a couple of days earlier, Turk's helicopter was shot down over the Diyala province outside of Baghdad. He didn't make it. This is how the Honolulu newspaper described him, and a different tattoo that Turk had added to his collection;
More than 200 troops with Hawai'i ties dead
By William Cole and Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writers
Marines killed in Iraq were remembered in a service at the Marine base at Kane'ohe Bay in January 2005.
Chief Warrant Officer 2 Theodore U. Church didn't wear his patriotism on his sleeve. He had it tattooed into his skin. After a 2003 deployment to Iraq, the Ohio man and Schofield Barracks soldier had an American flag inked onto his right arm with the names of his wife and two children above. Below the flag read: I am prepared to die in their defense.
On Memorial Day, the 32-year-old Church and 1st Lt. Keith N. Heidtman, 24, also from Schofield, were killed when their OH-58D Kiowa helicopter crashed after receiving heavy enemy fire in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad — one of the most volatile areas of Iraq.
The Appalachian Uprising festival didn't start until Thursday afternoon, so on Thursday morning my Uncle Wormy and I got up about 6am and drove to Wheelersburg, Ohio. Every Thursday morning they have a very cool rural flea market there that starts about 5am so that the farmers can pack up and move out by 9am or 10am or so and do their chores for the day. As we drove there on route 52 along the Ohio River, the honeysuckle was filling the air with its sweet aroma. Summertime is here.
The items sold at this flea market range from baby chickens for sale, to old farm tools, to musical instruments, to fresh picked sweet corn in the husk for 2 dollars a dozen in August. A friend of mine collects old block and tackle setups, something you would use in a barn to lift and move and stack bales of hay and other items. I found two that were worthy, and snatched them up. I did see a set of three well-made plates with a chicken theme on them that another friend would appreciate, but by the time I came back around after looking for other options, they were already bought up. While I like to see what all there is at a flea market first so I can make the right choice later on, I should have went with my intuition and bought them on the spot. Heck, the plates were only a buck apiece.
As the morning progressed, we went back to town to load up the Subaru station wagon. The Appalachian Uprising festival is a sweet summer groove, a pleasant hippy bluegrass festival with a great music lineup thrown into a beautiful long, slender yet mountainous valley that snakes through the southern Ohio Appalachian foothills. The last five miles to the festival are gravel road, the trees are full and green, and the hoot owls put on quite a show on night with the full moon above. It was actually a Blue Moon, meaning the second full moon in the same month. The first day of the festival featured a free pinto beans and corn bread dinner provided by the owners, a good meal that few Appalachians would pass up.
The music was great, and I got to hang with many musicians whom I only see a couple times of year. I hooked up with Rev. Jeff Mosier of Blueground Undergrass, and an original member of Aquarium Rescue Unit, and passed on a fervent howdy from Mother Teresa, so that was fun. Rev. smiled at me over his sunglasses and said, ‘She’s cool. That woman is a trip,” and we went from there. The band sounded great, and I am glad that BU have regrouped and are on the road again.
I did play my guitar quite a bit, with both Friday and Saturday nights ending with the early morning birds chirping and the pink hue starting to glow in the eastern sky when I closed the guitar case for the last time. I drank a fine passel of moonshine there this year, sipping some ‘char’ that was made in North Carolina, some sweet clear as a bell shine that was made in Tennessee, and some black Cherry 'shine made in Virginia. Musician Larry Keel, who is an amazing guitarist and a widely known connoisseur of good corn squeezins', did his wonderful set which included a reggae-esque tune about moonshine that included the chant, "Jar, Rastafari," instead of the usual "Jah, Rastafari."
The babes were on parade, as all of us were amazed at the number of hotties floating around. One sweety from Cleveland named Nicole had never been this far south, or to a bluegrass festival for that matter, and she made the point of driving to the Ohio River on her way to the Uprising because she has never seen it before. She always heard about the history of the waterway, from the steamboat days to its time as the pivotal destination for the Underground Railroad when slaves tried to escape the Confederacy, and the songs written about the river as well. It was a lot bigger than she thought it would be. After a couple of days at the festival, she got into the organic yet dynamic bluegrass groove and flowed with it. Basically, what happened was she learned to relax.
Onstage, Vince Herman (of Leftover Salmon who has a great new band now called Great American Taxi) showed up on Saturday afternoon and was ready to party after a long drive. Vince literally got right out of the van and strung up his guitar and ripped on some riffs with the great guitarist Larry Keel who was running an open jam onstage at the time. Vince also came out and played with headliner Sam Bush, and that rocked, but his set with his new band Great American Taxi was one of the highlights of the festival. Every song was a keeper. He is back on a roll. Check them out if you can.
One theme of the music during the weekend centered on life in the Appalachians, and the connected issues of mountaintop removal that continues to be a problem as strip mining takes it toll on God's work. It is cheaper, and somewhat safer, for a coal company to rip off the whole top of a mountain to get to the coal seam underneath than it is to dig a normal underground coal mine that would leave the mountaintop intact.
The issue also came up at our camp. We had a cute and voluptuous young lady named Brandy from Hazard, Kentucky who asked to sit with us at our camp. Brandy was toting around one of the biggest dogs I have ever seen in my life named Barlowe, who was as big as a small horse, and we all got to talking. She told us that her and her family live back in the mountains, that the long hair that flowed off of her was redder than usual, as she told it, because of all of the sulphur in their well water, and that her mother owns 35 acres on a mountaintop there in Kentucky and is refusing to sell out to the coal companies who are on her tail. The strip miners have ripped apart the rest of their mountain, as they got the other folks to sell out. They coal companies have stripped away everything on all sides of her land right up to the property line. She could make a pretty penny if she sold out, but she is holding on to her little bit of paradise as best as she can and making a point of it.
This theme moved onstage when Vince Herman sang his great song from his new album called "Appalachian Soul," about a small community fighting a huge coal strip mining corporation. Herman grew up near Pittsburgh in a coal mining family and lived quite a bit in West Virginia, going to West Virginia University. Later in his set, Herman looked out from the stage and decided to take advantage of the Appalachian surroundings he found himself in at the festival and sang a Hazel Dickens song called "West Virginia My Home."
Later on Darrell Scott put on a hell of a show, and sang the famous coal country song that he wrote for Patty Loveless and Brad Paisley called "You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive." Scott was born on a tobacco farm in London, Kentucky, a coal-centered town, and also had family members that were miners. I've known both of them for a while, and I have told them both the story of my grandpa who lost is whole left arm in a coal mining accident about a mile and a half down in the Otsego Mine in Wyoming County, West Virginia. I know their vibe is real.
The music was good, and several bands plugged in and slammed some electric guitar amongst the bluegrass music, including Vince Herman, Sam Bush, Darrell Scott, and the John Cowan band. The Avett Brothers are a trip, and have the biggest word-of-mouth buzz of any band out there right now. They simply bring punk rock to bluegrass music, which is the only way I can explain it, and they are non-stop and crazy and as manic as a bunch of monkeys making ketchup.
Other highlights included sets from Hit and Run Bluegrass, Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time (who did the great Lonesome Skynyrd Time album of bluegrassed up Skynyrd tunes), the Two High String Band from Texas played some awesome progressive newgrass and swing, the Woodbox Gang out of southern Illinois added some newgrass versions of Marshall Tucker and Allman Brothers songs, and the big surprise of the festival was the fired up performance of legend Jesse McReynolds.
A few days before the festival I interviewed Jesse McReynolds for the local Huntington, WV newspaper – the Herald Dispatch. For 50 years he was a part of the legendary group with his brother called Jim and Jesse, who set the standard for bluegrass music. In the interview, he talked about his own connection to West Virginia and the coal miners who live there;
Music legend McReynolds headlines first night of Uprising
By DEREK HALSEY
May 30, 2007
SCOTTOWN, Ohio -- One of the impressive aspects of the Appalachian Uprising, the music festival that starts Thursday in nearby Scottown, Ohio, is the diversity of the performers. Interspersed with younger and more progressive bands are some true legends of the bluegrass world, such as local musician Melvin Goins. Another first generation bluegrass legend will be headlining on Thursday night when Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys take the stage.
Since the late 1940s, McReynolds was in a band with his brother Jim called Jim and Jesse. Their mark in American music is undeniable. During their 50-year career, they were inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Honor, became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1964, and were awarded the prestigious National Heritage Fellowship in 1997.
Unfortunately, in 2002 Jesse's brother Jim died. After
50 years of playing music, Jesse had a decision to make.
"I think a lot of people wonder if I'm in the business sometimes or not, ... but I'm still at it," said McReynolds. "It's different, but I'm surviving it. I've survived it about four years now, so things are looking pretty good. I never had a doubt about if I was going to quit playing. I figured that if it had been turned around, (his brother Jim) would have kept playing."
McReynolds also has a connection to the Tri-State area. Jim and Jesse hosted a radio show in Charleston in the late 1940s.
"That was one of the first jobs we had, on WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia," said McReynolds. "It was an early morning radio show, a 15-minute radio show. Back then, radio was the main way for a country band to get on the air. ... There wasn't any tape then, so you had to do everything live. It was at 5:45 to 6 o'clock in the morning when we did it. We would go out and play shows at night, and come back and do the radio show every morning. We were there about six or eight months.
"Times were pretty bad when we were up there. The coal mines used to go on strike a lot, and they happened to be on strike when we went in there to do our radio shows and the bookings didn't turn out too well so we didn't stay there too long."
These days, McReynolds keeps performing and drawing in young and old fans alike.
"It's surprising how many young people come out and are interested in learning to play the bluegrass and play with some of the older people," McReynolds said. "That's the thing about bluegrass, you mingle with the fans a lot. It's a family type thing, you know. You don't see any of the superstars in bluegrass like in the country thing where they have bodyguards and all that. That's one thing about bluegrass, we're still on our own so we can go out and meet the people, and it's good to be able to do that."
It is real easy to take musicians like Jesse McReynolds for granted, as you tend to see older bands like that year after year, time after time. But as we set at our camp, where the sound of the stage was loud, crisp, and clear, we were all amazed at the show Jesse put on. It was Thursday night, and a lot of the crowd had not yet arrived at the festival, but McReynolds was the headliner and he played like one.
Jesse is not only known for the awards and hall of fames and such, but he is also known for inventing an unusual style of mandolin playing called ‘cross picking.’ The sound guys had the setup just right, as when Jesse leaned in and let go a mandolin solo, it rang out through that valley with power and precision. He meant business. Everyone that I met throughout the rest of the festival, musicians and fans alike, who had heard Jesse play said the same thing, “Amazing.” For a musician who is 76 years old to put it out there like that was a true inspiration, and it surely turned our heads. It was a privilege and a pleasure and an honor to hear Jesse McReynolds that night, a musician who still has the fire within him though long in the tooth. That is what you hope for at a festival. That is what we got. Good times.
[Edited on 6/4/2007 by DerekFromCincinnati]
skypup - 6/6/2007 at 02:10 AM
Great story Derek, always love to hear stories from back home, especially ones about bluegrass. I have never seen Sam Bush, but have never gave up on it.
One has to admire that family holding onto their land instead of letting a mining company strip it down to nothing. They stripped the crap out of the hills in southern Ohio back in the 60's. It took forever for them to reclaim the land.
My mother and I used to take the train that ran from Cincy to Washington DC en route to NYC. It was called the George Washington back in the 60's and I always loved riding on it.
DerekFromCincinnati - 6/6/2007 at 02:26 AM
Cool. I thought of you as my uncle told me to slow down while going through Hanging Rock that morning. Bastids. And, came through Ironton, the Home Of Bobby bare, and drove over the old tracks for the Detroit, Toledo, and Ironton Rail Road that used to run all of those iron makings back in the day, and then we crossed the bridge to Kentucky and hit the Country Music Highway-Route 23 - and onto the Hillbilly Flea Market, but that isn't nearly as productive a deal as the Wheelersburg flea market. Ironton, as well as Portsmouth, both have cool artistically done and multi-colored flood wall murals by the river which are cool. And I did make sure I ate a Stewarts Hot Dog or two with that excellent root beer.
Oh, and my uncle still had some ramps, the high altitude wild garlic herb, from earlier in the Spring that we cooked breakfast taters with. Good stuff.
Old home week, boy.
[Edited on 6/6/2007 by DerekFromCincinnati]
skypup - 6/6/2007 at 09:58 PM
Hanging Rock is where those rasslers got caught last year with the herb and pain pills. I think it is the only place listed by AAA as a speed trap. I used to fish those strip mines with my canoe a lot when I lived up there, lots of huge bass in those strip mine ponds.
Stewarts Hot Dogs? Mmmm I worked down in Cincinnati back in the early 80's and a fellow there at my job was from Huntington. First thing that I remember him saying was how he loved Stewarts hot dogs.
Personally, I like Jim's Spaghetti House. JFK and BB King are among the many famous folk who have dined there.
DerekFromCincinnati - 6/7/2007 at 04:43 PM
Ditto on Jim's.
But Stewart's Hot Dogs and world famous root beer is the sh*t.
The original drive-in is on 5th Avenue around 24th street. It has been there since 1932. You drive up and the carhop comes to your car window and takes your order and brings it to you, with those trays that fit on the window, and you honk your horn when your done and they come back out and get the tray, etc. There is no inside dining. Old school.
Most of us associate drive-in restaurants with the 1950's, with cars that sported huge tail-fins, Elvis' rock n' roll on the radio, flattop haircuts, letter sweaters and poodle skirts.
But Stewarts Drive-In in Huntington had already been in business 20 years before the drive-in days of the 50's arrived.
In 1932, Huntington's first drive-in opened for business. It was modest, even by depression-era standards.
The proprietors were John Louis Mandt and his wife Gertrude, along with their son Harry and daughter-in-law Isabelle. They purchased a little piece of land on Fifth Avenue in Huntington, West Virginia, and built, at a cost of $1,750, a tiny building which still stands today.
There wasn't much on the menu then—only two items—Stewarts Root Beer and popcorn.
Sales for the first day totalled a whopping 50 cents. Little did they realize that four generations later the business in that little orange drive-in would still be going strong.
The very next year, the Mandts expanded the menu to include a hot dog sandwich, complete with Gertrude Mandt's mouth-watering chili sauce.
The hot dog and its distinctive chili sauce were a smashing success.
Even today, Gertrude Mandt's secret recipe chili sauce is still prepared by hand—it's tasty formula closely guarded by the Mandt family.
The hot dog sauce is fantastic, and the root beer is simply the best.
There are other Stewarts that do have inside dining, including the one in Ashland.
skypup - 6/7/2007 at 07:58 PM
Derek, your making me homesick here. lol Thank God, my daughter and her mother are coming down for a visit this week. My vacation plans don't include a visit to them thar hills this year.
LinnieXX - 6/7/2007 at 08:32 PM
we got stewarts here too.
DerekFromCincinnati - 6/7/2007 at 09:23 PM
There are two different Stewarts. From what I can tell, the ones in Jersey are based on the root beer and were started in 1924, and the ones in West Virginia are based on their original hot dogs and sauce, which is only found in West Virginia and kentucky, and was started in 1932.
LinnieXX - 6/7/2007 at 10:24 PM
yeah the ones here are not known for the hot dogs, more like the root beer.
but they are mostly dotshops now.
skypup - 6/8/2007 at 11:03 PM
" target=_blank> http://www.irontontribune.com/
Hey Derek, there a big story in my local newspaper about Tuc.