The Many Roads I've Covered ...
by Jill Howland
Article originally appeared in alt.music.the-band, August '96.
"Goin' to see some band in NYC, huh?" said one of the guys at work last Monday.
That's right, The Band, as in the job I was quitting that day, to run off gallivanting around the northeast United States to see a couple concerts and some special places.
"Must be a rough life. Just callin' up the airline and saying 'Hey, I wanna go to New York' and then just walking out the door," my boss chided as I was saying my goodbyes. He couldn't' resist sticking in a few jabs here and there about "ultimate groupie-hood" and the fact that I could be working here, in Missouri's illustrious Department of Natural Resources, earning money to pay off the large debt that I'd driven myself into with the half-dozen speeding tickets I'd acquired this summer (and I guess since we're delving into the personal life of Jill Howland now, I can currently boast over $500 in m.p.h.'s and lawyers thus far.) "Yeah, it's rough. I'll be returning from New York to the poorhouse. Life is short. See you suckers later."
... and so the gallivanting began.
Driving up to St. Louis that afternoon, I was feelin' a little spiritual. I was listening to a mix of my favorite Band songs in order to psych up for the big hoo-hah, aware that all the risks I was taking here would be worth the price. C'mon, I'd be back at college next month, and routine, ruts, and schedules will have caught up with me by then and I'll be able to look back on this with a smile.
"You're gonna walk that endless highway
I sat in Busch Stadium with some of my St. Louis kinfolk that night, watching the Cardinals beat up on the Padres, but my mind had already left St. Louis and was in New York. I went over the trip in my head, my imagination going wild. I was going to meet Adela at the airport tomorrow morning and we would both fly to "Lookout" Cleveland. Rent a car and drive to NYC like bats out of hell (at 60 miles an hour all the way, of course). There we would meet Gary (a longtime bootleg trader friend of mine) and Paolo ("Mr. Band Survey") at the Chelsea Hotel that night. (Is this a rock 'n roll trip or what?) We were going to have a party with all the good spirits who make the rooms famous there -- Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Sid and Nancy, Jimi Hendrix, etc. The next day we would do the "Jill's first visit to NYC"-thing and spend another night before we were off to the town of The Band--Woodstock. Our devious minds had the whole gig planned out. Big Pink's latest Realtor knew that we were coming out and was going to give us a tour of the house. Yes, a TOUR of Big Pink. Basement Tapes. Music From. Swimmin' pools, movie stars. We also had arranged to meet Kitrick Short in Saugerties to see his sculptures of The Band as well.
Friday was to be the first concert in Latham, and Saturday was the show in Buffalo. Sunday was "hook up with Serge" day, in Canada, and the esteemed Mr. Daniloff would show us Richard Manuel's grave in Stratford. And we'd check out Niagara Falls and all that good stuff too. All this, set to a soundtrack on the car stereo of Band, Band, Band.
Sounded like a simple enough trip at the time. However, if you'd told me in the seventh inning stretch of that ballgame there in St. Louis that 72 hours later I'd be riding The Band's bus across the New York countryside, drinking orange Hi-C with Rick and Levon, and brushing my teeth with Rick's toothbrush, I would had fallen over laughing.
Well, New York City was good to us and I learned a few things about the Big Apple. Mainly that there aren't a lot similarities between the Ozarks and Manhattan. To quote Adela, "You're not in southern Missouri anymore. Quit grinning at that guy with the AK-47." Second, that I'm a natural NYC driver-- rude, offensive, and full of great hand gestures. Third, black label whiskey plus sesame chicken equals bad idea.
Viva New York!
Then there was Woodstock. It has this big legacy. Dylan, Butterfield, and the like, and of course The Band-- they've all lived there. Levon and Rick rave about it. As far as I'm concerned, it would basically have to be the Promised Land to make a guy leave the Ozarks, but Levon has good judgment, right?
Well, the place ain't that great. After going to school two hours away from Boulder, Colorado, the last two years, I figured all the dreadlocks, nose rings, and anti-bathers were back there. . . but they all relocated themselves eastward to the Catskills. Besides having more granola than the entire Kellogg's corporation, I found that when the votes have been tallied, the jury has been polled, and scientific experts agree: WOODSTOCK LOVES TOURISTS. No doubt about it, folks. . . You wanna ten dollar hamburger? How about five dollar gallon of milk, and a couple hundred bucks worth of souvenir coffee mugs and ceramic thimbles? Then this is your place.
All sourness aside, though, the guys live here these days for good reason-- it is a small community with tons of green trees and rolling hills (ALMOST half as pretty as the Missouri-Arkansas Ozarks, in fact!). There's a lot of land to offer to those who can afford it.
Rick's place sits on several acres of untouched land with a big ol' barnyard with chickens, cows, the works. (That's right, he now has PLENTY of chances to milk a cow.) When I mentioned to him my rather unimpressed opinion of Woodstock, he said that they love it there because of the privacy. According to Rick, there's a special understanding among the townspeople that includes sheltering and keeping local the celebrities' whereabouts under wraps. The Band doesn't have a problem with surprise drop-ins from fans or weirdoes, and for this, they have the locals to thank.
I may not have fallen in love with the town itself, but I will admit that there's a spirit there that made a hard-core Banddandy like me give any doubts about ghosts a second thought. Driving down the narrow winding roads that once wore the burnt rubber from squealing tires courtesy of Richard Manuel, all the stories Levon has told came rushing back. It almost helped divert me from the raging fury that one pleasant Officer Daniels of the New York State Highway Patrol had bestowed upon me an hour earlier in the form of a yellow paper reading "78 in a 65". I kissed my poor little driver's license goodbye that day on the way to visit Big Pink. And there wasn't one thing that I could do about it other than turn over the keys to Gary and hang my head.
As we rounded the corner on Stoll Road and a Big, Pink house came into view, I couldn't help but wonder how many times Richard lost his license to the law. It was too bad that I had to be this depressed and inconsolable on the day that I stepped into a tangible piece of history, Big Pink, but it made the walk around the front yard woods a little more solemn, I guess. As Adela told me, "Oddly enough, there's a certain peace in being completely and totally screwed."
That night was recovery night in the Cloverleaf Inn in Saugerties. Sweet ol' Gary had been sick that night, eating Tums like candy and dying for some sleep. I was sad for obvious reasons and all four of us felt a letdown to be staying in a hotel after standing in Big Pink.
Friday, it was on to Latham for the first show. Somehow I ended up behind the wheel again that day. It turned out all right in the long run, because a) I didn't get pulled over, and b) I got to pick where we stopped for lunch. I'm sure that Paolo and Adela will tell you how deeply indebted they'll be to me for the rest of their lives because of that day. No, it doesn't have anything to do with me getting them backstage at the concert. Rather, it was because this afternoon they had the pleasure of meeting my good friend Bob. Bob Evans, that is. The truck stop king. Every good hick from the hills knows that to dine at a Bob's Big Boy on the highway is not just a way of getting lunch-- it's a way of life. I tried hard to explain to Adela and Paolo how lucky they were to have me around to show 'em the light, at least as it pertains to fine cuisine.
Finally arriving in the Albany area, we had a hard time keeping our heads on. It was really going to happen-- we were finally going to see The Band in concert together. Strangers uniting through music. Kinda cool to think about.
We settled into a hotel where I made a couple calls to warn my friends in the crew to be prepared-- we'd be there in full force-- while Paolo and Adela tried to soothe their crazed excitement with a new bottle of whiskey. The good times were beginning to roll so well that before I knew it, the bottle was empty, the room was trashed, and I found myself wearing black leather pants. (Hey, it's a rock 'n roll show, not the opera.)
The concert hall was packed, as we'd hoped, and just as weird as we'd heard. It's a circular theatre where the stage rotates. We did a little running around before the warm-up acts started (Rory Block and Savoy Brown), and I introduced my friends to everyone I could find around the green room. Everyone was pretty darn impressed with the distances we'd traveled "just to see The Band", especially Paolo. But it's kind of a twisted tradition for The Band and the crew to tease me with "So, Jill, how many days did you have to drive this time?". That started in April when I ditched some final exams at college and drove ALLLLL the way from Wyoming to see them in Minneapolis. Actually it was Richard Bell who gave me the nickname "Interstate Queen".
Adela and Paolo watched the openers while I had dinner with Rick and Richard. We talked and caught up on things, which was nice. Apparently they've been awfully busy lately. (Stay tuned!) We ate some nasty fish and shish kabobs, and then Rick broke out the hard stuff: orange Hi-C drink boxes. I tell ya, there's no stopping these guys.
I must have slipped under the influence of orange mojo-in-a-box, because after a couple hours, Rick had convinced me to get back on the bus after the show and come to Buffalo with 'em. I knew that my friends would be okay without me, so I said "what the hell" and told Adela and Paolo to meet me at the venue in Buffalo the next night for the show.
The concert was great. The Band sounded tight as ever and nobody on the spinning stage of doom got motion sickness. I was worried about Jim-- he has a weak stomach, you know. ;-)
The setlist: W.S. Walcott, Stuff You Gotta Watch, Back to Memphis, Willy and the Hand Jive, It Makes No Difference, Rag Mama Rag, Atlantic City, Long Black Veil, Crazy Mama, The Weight, Stage Fright, Deep Feelin', Stand Up, Love You Too Much, High Price of Love, Shape I'm In. enc. Chest Fever, Free Your Mind, Rock 'n Roll Shoes.
The show ended, I jumped on the bus, and we were off. So many exciting tales from those eight hours rolling through the night ... it would necessitate its very own web page. I'll save it all for later.
At any rate, we drove all night and the coolest thing happened: I got to watch the New York sun rise with my favorite musician in the world, Levon Helm. Rick and I talked about old songs of theirs for a couple hours, and we even sang a few Stage Fright oldies together, trying to make the trip go faster. They're things I never would have dreamed about doing in my life, until now.
We checked into the Buffalo Hilton at 7:30 a.m. and I was out like a light by 7:34. Levon headed for the restaurant for steak and eggs, and Rick sat up for hours doing desk work. These guys do not sleep! The rest of the day and evening was mostly business-- me asking questions for the next few articles I have to write, half the guys doing the sound check, and the other half resting up for the night's show.
The great trail-burning trip of 1996 came to a head that night when The Band mounted the stage in Buffalo and put on THE BEST concert I've seen them do in the last few years. The four of us-- Gary, Paolo, Adela, and I-- agreed that it was a perfect way to end our great journey. They even threw in an extra encore for us! Afterwards we shared some of Paolo's honest-to-god Italian wine with the guys, kissed them all, let them all look at Adela's and my Band-inspired tattoos, and headed for yet another cheap hotel for our last night as a foursome.
The next morning Gary had to head back to Ithaca to rejoin his real-world. We nearly tied him down to the back seat of the rental car we wanted so badly for him to stay. We remaining Musketeers turned the other way and began the last leg-- the drive to Stratford, Ontario, to visit the late great Richard Manuel.
Serge the Adorable (Daniloff) met us in downtown Stratford, just two blocks away from THE Knox Presbyterian Church. Serge is an old friend of Garth's from London, Ont., and without a doubt is the THE best looking 58-year-old in North America. It was an honor for us young whippersnappers to have him as a part of our gallivanting, historic Band trip. The four of us had a couple brews before hitting the cemetery; we chatted and listened to Serge recall memories of Garth and Richard Manuel from the early days. Then we piled in the car, camcorder and all, and drove to the Avondale Cemetery to spend some time with Beak.
Luckily for us, Serge knew where the grave was (he was actually at the funeral). Lying flush with the ground, it's humble and easily passed by. Still, Serge walked right up to it. There we sat, a Canadian, an Italian, a Mexican, and a Missourian, right next to Richard, shooting photos and talking like old friends. Boy, did we make a motley crew! But the weather was great, and Serge had brought his photo album of Garth and the other guys through the years. The main feeling in this peaceful setting was that we'd come from so far away just to pay our respects, and we were happy there; all expectations had been met and exceeded. For Adela, Paolo, and me, it was the closest we'd ever been or will be to seeing Richard Manuel in person.
It was quite hard to leave. We wanted Serge to stay, but he left us with the good people of Stratford that night to finish our gallivanting and craziness. What a guy.
I can't explain the feeling I had when we returned to the cemetery later that night with flowers. It was really late and I'd fallen asleep on Richard's grave while Adela and Paolo were talking. It was two in the morning when they woke me up to go back to the hotel. I really didn't want to go, but I left with this great feeling that made the huge trip from Missouri more than worth it.
The adventure now over, we came back through Niagara Falls, got to Cleveland late, and Paolo missed his plane by eight minutes. He's in Houston now with Adela, and we all have to get back to reality. I'm writing this in the car on the way home from the St. Louis airport-- hopefully I haven't endangered too many lives with my simultaneous driving and scribbling.
So now I return, penniless, licenseless, overwhelmed, and really really tired. None of my friends can believe what I did this week; they just don't understand how one musical group can make a person do something like travel 24 hours or cross a foreign border to see a concert or historic site.
My main goal now is to get these photos developed. This is one trip I'm going to want to remember for years to come.