Notes from the Road â€“ Trenton Ga to Cullman AL to Knoxville TN to Parsons WV If you'd like, view this at http://dougspearsmusic.blogspot.com/ to see it with pictures, etc. included. What a week! Lots of shows and a bit of road time. Let's catch up. Friday, August 28th â€“ Cullman, Alabama The way I've worked this trip I'm leaving the camper set up in Trenton, GA at the Lookout Mountain West KOA and traveling to and from my gigs from that home base. Brian and Allison, the owners, became great friends and fans last year and agreed to have me stay an entire 8 days with them this year and I've GREATLY appreciated it. If you are campers and want to head to the NW Georgia / Chattanooga area you will make a big mistake by not stopping in and staying with Brian and Allison. Their's is not the average KOA â€“ it is what the model should be. They made a decision to change their lifestyle to focus on family and friends. They treat that campground as their home and you as an honored guest in it. This is not a "corporate" campground like some where the bottom line is all. To be sure, they are there to make a living, but they are intent on giving every guest more than the value of the fee they pay to stay. Please stop in there and tell `em I sent `ya! Friday night was my show at Berkley Bob's Coffeehouse in Cullman, AL. I "poached" this gig off of the Bluesgotus calendar when I saw they were playing there back in June (thanks Bill & Eli for the tip!). I frankly didn't know what to expect and kept myself ready for anything. It turned out to be a special treat and I made a lot of new friends. Bob Keefe, the proprietor, used to live down our way and played the Florida Folk Festival once back in the Cousin Thelma days. He's had Berkley Bob's now for about 7 years and moved to this particular location a couple of years ago. What a great room! A 100 year old brick building with high ceilings covered in stamped tin tiles â€“ the place just oozes charm and warmth. Coffee's, teas, deli items and baked goods are the fare served up by Bob's daughter behind the counter. A nice sized raised stage in the corner farthest from the entrance looks out on tables, couches and arm chairs with books, teas, coffees and other items for sale lining the walls. The coffee / tea station is to the right of the stage and I had the usual concern about the overwhelming noise of the cappuccino machine and blender (smoothies) kicking in just when I het a soft, soulful song. I worried for naught. This is a REAL listening room â€“ the folks know that if they go over and order something that will require noisy apparatus to prepare then they'll have to wait just a bit until a space between songs, etc. before the equipment will be used â€“ VERY impressive. I had a solid crowd of a little over 50 who listened to every word and note, signed up on the email list, bought CD's and generously supported the gas fund. Bob has enthusiastically invited me back and I intend to take him up on it for sure. This is one of the true small listening venues of the southeast. Thanks Bob and all my new friends in the great state of Alabama! Saturday, August 29th Trenton GA is, of course, just 10 â€“ 15 miles southwest of Chattanooga, so I had a short commute to my Saturday night show at Charles and Myrtles' Coffeehouse at the Christ Unity Church in Chattanooga. Andrew Kelsey is the host of the series which has been going strong EVERY WEEK (that's right, 50+ shows a year) for 16 years. The opportunity to play Charles & Myrtle's is a privilege and I was looking forward to it. The Church is a small house converted to the purposes of the congregation. There is seating for about 80 arranged in a short, upside down "T" from the performance space (which becomes the pulpit on Sunday). I was thrilled to walk in and immediately see Bill & Barbara Derby, our good friends and expatriots from Ormond Beach who now live in Blairsville, Ga. A two hour hike for them to come see me â€“ THANKS GUYS!! Again, this is a true listening room environment. The folks come strictly to sit and listen, many with their eyes closed a good part of the time, swaying to the music. You know, an old storyteller and song writer like me just eats that up with a spoon â€“ what a treat. A major plus is Andrew's home baked cookies â€“ WOW! Totally addictive and loaded with all the good (bad for you) stuff. The appearance at Charles & Myrtles' also includes an appearance at their Church service the following morning. It is a lay ministry which features a different speaker each week either from the congregation or someone traveling through. This is a very liberal, relaxed, Christian based fellowship that includes much laughter and song, as well as mediation and personal introspection. If you can believe it, ASCAP & BMI make the Church buy a license because they use some contemporary music in their service (i.e., Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens, etc.). I'd REALLY like to hear the PRO's defend THAT! They brought me on for a two song offering ("Do You" and "It Must Be You") which was very well received. Andrew invited me to come "do it again" and I intend to get that on the calendar soon. Thanks Andrew! Sunday, August 30th Time for a goodbye show here in the KOA. These are, by definition, small shows for 25 or less. But, you can never judge the quality of a crowd by its size. In my two years of doing these campground shows I've learned "the ropes" of making it work, for my type of act at least, and these are some of my favorite shows of the tours. Like a house concert, they are small and intimate, but with the plus of being in a beautiful outdoor setting designed for this purpose, like a festival performance. Again, the folks that come to these are there strictly for the music and want to here every word and note. They are generous beyond measure and love to purchase CD's. From a purely economic standpoint I do nearly as well with these shows as I do weekend shows at a coffeehouse with an admission fee. From an artist enjoyment standpoint they are second only to house concerts in the pleasure I derive from the people and the music. This show here at the KOA was no exception. A good crowd on Sunday night, 25 or so, and a full offering of tunes from the soon to be released (no really, soon now, I promise) CD Welcome Home, my 2007 album Break Some Stones, as well as older material and newer stuff not currently on an available CD. Another "perk" of these shows is that you are meeting folks from different parts of the country, not so much locals. There was a group this night from the Houston area who were thrilled to hear I'd be in their neck of the woods in November and have already made plans to attend my shows there. I really love these shows and the folks I meet in them. Monday, August 31st On the road again . . . I didn't get started as early as I would have liked due to work that had to be done in connection with the new CD, etc. So I pulled out just before noon to make my way north into West Virginia. I knew I wouldn't make it all the way, but I wanted to get as far as possible so that I could get in and settled in Parsons sometime Tuesday morning. I learned last year that pushing the big Ford to haul the trailer at 70 mph plus, particularly in the hill country, destroys what little fuel economy you can get out of a V8. So the time v. $$ trade weighs in favor of keeping it around 60 mph and accepting the longer drive time. I had pure interstate highway driving up through TN and Virginia. Still, scenery was nice and the driving was fairly easy except around Knoxville which can get a little congested. Once I crossed into West Virginia two things changed â€“ one good and one bad. The bad first â€“ gas prices jump .35 per gallon immediately after crossing the state line!! They must have a serious gas tax going on up here. But, the good is that the driving converted to a state highway system with gorgeous scenery. As WV is owned nearly 70% by the federal government, much of the drive is through national forests. I crossed great dams, rivers, man made lakes, etc. and the Allegheny Mountains (part of the Appalachians and forming the border between Virginia and West Virginia) which were breathtaking. By 7 pm I had crossed the New River Gorge, passed Beckly and Fayetteville and was looking for a likely place to stop for the night â€“ cheap, comfortable and easy were my criteria for a campsite. I saw a sign for the Summerville Dam National Park and turned towards it. Now, I made a large mistake at this point. As it was nearly dusk I was looking to make sure I didn't miss the turn to the park. I came upon "Camp Site Road" and quickly turned right. Bad, bad move. Camp Site Road is a private road of residences and is a narrow rock road that drops STEEPLY down the mountain a couple of miles to a dead end with ditches on both sides of the road. Remember, I'm towing a 24' behemoth behind the Expedition. Well, thank goodness for 4 wheel drive and an ability to back a trailer. I saw my chance about a mile down â€“ one gravel driveway went steeply up to my right while another dropped down to my left almost straight across. I switched into high 4 wheel drive on the fly, hit the gas up the steep drive on the right and ground to a stop as the trailer cleared the road. After a quick assessment of my angle and a deep breath I put `er in reverse and let her go slinging the rear of the trailer into the descending drive across the way. Again, gravel flew as I ground to a halt. Now, low 4 wheel drive was needed to bear down and pull the trailer up and around onto the road heading back the way I came. Now I REALLY needed to get to the campground and a little brown whiskey! Soon I crossed the Summerville Dam and then came to the camping area right on Summersville lake. Cheap, very comfortable and (but for my own folly) very easy. I checked in and received a site right on (I mean 10 ` close) the lake. The site was perfectly level so I had no set up â€“ just left the trailer hooked to the car and plugged in the electric. I had a nice quiet dinner looking out over the lake as night fell and then sat and picked the guitar for a bit as I sipped that amber libation I had been craving after my backing adventure. Cool, sleeping with the windows open and the blankets on â€“ can't beat it. Tuesday, September 1 I got up early to get under way. I made a pot of coffee and stepped out to appreciate the early sun on Lake Summerville. The water is crystal clear and the mountains and trees rising around me were as peaceful as I could ask for. The blue wing teals make their home here and are fat from the offerings of the campers in the area. I got out a few slices of bread and within seconds I was surrounded by 30 or more beautiful ducks wrestling for the bits I tossed their way. The experienced ones watched the arc and caught the bread in the air before it hit the water. I have lots of pictures and will post a link when I've got a chance. Only two and Â½ hours from Parsons I pressed on and arrived at Five Rivers Campground by 11 a.m. I was soon settled in and connected to the internet to do some promotion for the shows in the area on Wednesday and Thursday. The campground sits right on the Cheat River, just two miles upstream from the 2 acre parcel we bought here last fall. At this time of year the river level is dropping though still plenty of water for fish and that peaceful moving water sound across the polished rocks. Very cool here â€“ low 50's to high 40's at night and 70's during the day. Clear blue skies â€“ magnificent! I spent the day working, as described, with breaks to go wade the river a little, skip some stones, take a supply run to local grocery and scare up a little firewood. Whiskey and a warm fire looking out over the river â€“ this is living! Wednesday, September 2 I played a new venue last night Â½ hour down the mountain in Elkins, WV. Elkins is an "artsy" little community which includes Davis & Elkins College, a small private liberal arts school. I'm playing at a local music venue, El Gran Sabor, an authentic Venezuelan restaurant. The food is wonderful and the building is another charm oozing edifice with wood floors and an outdoor courtyard up front. The owner, Rob Masten (along with his wife, Derdlim, the master chef and, in Rob's words, "the boss") is also a musician and teaches music both at the local high school and at Davis & Elkins. The restaurant has a terrific music room in the back of the building where the bar is located. A full stage with good sound and nice lighting sits back there and looks out over a seating area large enough for at least 50 or so. The live music runs Wednesday and Friday from 7 to 10 and focuses on original music of various genres. I had a great time playing the room, though it is not what I'm typically used to. On this night the smallish crowd, though paying attention to the music and appreciative, were not a pure listening crowd. Sitting mostly around the bar there was a great deal of conversation and noise during the show. Consequently, I couldn't establish my usual audience connection, tell the stories between songs, etc. that I usually do. Nevertheless, the crowd was hearing me, was generous in terms of the gas fund and very complimentary during breaks. I think the room has wonderful potential and I'll look forward to playing here again in my new "home away from home" neighborhood. Rob is a very outgoing and helpful guy who can be of great assistance locating other rooms to play within a reasonable driving distance for future trips. It's all in the attitude with which you approach it and the effort you invest to develop it. I think El Gran Sabor is well worth it. Thanks Rob! Thursday, September 3 OK, you're up to date. I've spent the morning writing this in the cool, beautiful WV weather with a campfire crackling and the Cheat River gurgling. Tonight I play the Purple Fiddle in Thomas WV less than a Â½ up the mountain and then head out early tomorrow for NC (house concert Saturday night), SC (campground show Sunday) and home on Monday. I may wait until I get back for the last installment, but you never know so stay tuned.