Where Do We Go From Here?
by Paolo Demaria
"Where do wo go from here"?, I'm asking myself while we're leaving Stratford, Ont. on a cloudy early Monday morning. Where do we go after the highest point of our "for The Band" tour has been reached ? In many years, probably nobody else among The Band fans has been so close to Richard Manuel like we did last night... Where do we go, what else can we do now ? While falling asleep in the back-seat of our white Ford, I leave the reality out of my mind for a while and go back to the previous week, on Tuesday, August 6th, 10.30pm, Chelsea Hotel's lobby, New York City..... lights off.....music on......action!
The Chelsea isn't just a "Hotel", it's the Hotel... a couple of light years ago, its walls saw Bob Dylan and Eric Andersen writing their poems, heard Janis crying, sheltered Sid & Nancy together for the last time, trembled at the sound of Jimi's guitar.... even some youngsters called "The Hawks" lived there, so we need to start everything from here. With the convenient respect I walk through the entrance and finally meet my buddies for the 1st time after months spent talking in our little cyber living room. In order of appearance I see Jill Howland, Gary Marsden and Adela Calbillo. United by the love for The Band, we can finally shake our hands. Such an event must be honoured, so we run in our room and rise some glasses to our heroes and 30 years later, the sound of guitars and harmonica echoes in the Chelsea again.
We don't have the time to realize that we're in Manhatthan that it's Thursday and we have a date with Lady History, up in Woodstock, NY. We drive Northward and me and Gary are wondering about how many times the guys in The Band have covered the same road... Probably in the same moment Jill, on the other car, is wondering about how fast Richard Manuel used to drive along this road... and probably the cop who pulls her over isn't a Band fan and doesn't understand all our impatience for finally visiting Big Pink. After a while, we're driving across those roads we know so well: Zena Rd., where Rick lived for a while after Big Pink, Pine Lane, Stoll Rd. I'm looking around searching for fragments of Richard's wrecked cars. I love the place, those winding roads that hide themselves in the woods, sometimes unpaved.... And along one of these roads we finally reach the place that saw the birth of the music we love so much.... I don't mind if it's probably not like it used to be anymore... while Adela is enjoying a special short tour of the basement (not simply a basement), I'm sitting around on the front door and I can almost see Richard, Rick, Levon, Garth and Robbie walking around.... Man, if these stones, these trees, these walls could only talk!!!
After a brief walk in Woodstock, where I find and buy a copy of Music from Big Pink on LP, it's time to visit Kitrick Short, the artist who has made of The Band's music his true inspiration. He's just moved to Saugerties from Hawaii and he receive us in his wonderful house where he lives with his wife Oksana and their beautiful baby Tessa. The living room is made wonderful by a lot of Kitrick's works. We just sit, drink some wine, talk and listen to The Band for two or three hours. I have no words to express how magic was the atmosphere between us! Unfortunately it's time to go (anyway we'll meet them again next evening at the 1st show) and we check in a motel near Saugerties and stay in the room, drinkin and laughin'. Later, me and Adela prove ourselves that we're the two fans who know better than anyone else Levon's book, reading and quoting our favourite paragraphs.
Next morning the rain greets the day I'll see The Band for the 1st time in my life. I waited for today for a long long time and I still can't realize it's all true... Everything's happening to fast: yesterday I was walkin' around Big Pink, tonight, I'll see them!!! So, we're on the road again, unfortunately without Gary, as he's to meet some friends for some Jazz concerts in Ithaca, NY. He's going to join us again tomorrow for the 2nd show. Few hours later, we're parkin' at the Starlite Theatre and still don't know what is going to happen. We meet some roadies who are really nice with us and then Jill is invited to go to the next venue with The Band on their tour bus!! That's simply GREAT!!!! At least one of us is going to do something that will make this trip more than special. But now there's no time to think about it, at least for me... they're almost hitting the stage, so I reach my seat after buying 3 Band T-shirts and a baseball cap and I finally hear the first notes! After years of concerts (Dylan, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, Van Morrison etc.) I have my favourite band right in front of me. I need to stay calm and quiet as I want to enjoy the whole show. Here's how the concert goes on:
W.S. Walcott-Stuff you gotta watch-Remedy-Back to Memphis-Blind Willie McTell-It makes no difference-Rag mama Rag-Atlantic City-Long black veil(dedicated by Rick to Jerry Garcia)-Crazy Mama(Levon on bass)-The weight-Stage fright-An instrumental blues standard-I must love you too much-The shape I'm in. As encores Garth shows up alone for The Genethic Method, then is joined by the others for Chest Fever, then they finish with Stand up.
After the show, I have my picture with Garth who's impressed by me coming from Italy to see them, then we say "Good luck" to Jill, and "Good bye" to Kitrick and his wife and head back to the Hotel. We celebrate the great show we've seen with some Southern Confort and see the next day's sun coming on from the East.
The next day is a pretty long drive for us to N. Tanawanda (at least for me, cause in 6 hours I can cover Italy for half of its lenght...) but me and Adela kill time singin' together The Band music and even listening to the Rocky Horror Show soundtrack twice, improvising the Time Warp dance on the car. So we check in a motel on the Niagara river, somewhere in a place called "Wheatfield" then run to the 2nd concert's venue to meet Gary again and wait for Jill. Time passes by and few hours later, we're on the tour bus with Rick Danko!!!! We take some pictures and later we find ourselves sitting around a table, outside the theatre talking about music with Rick! I mean, the show is gonna start in few minutes, and he hangs out with us for half an hour. We even sing a couple of lines from "Acadian Driftwood" and "Where do we go from here" then he says "see you guys on the bus after the show". I'm feeling like living in a dream!! I just talked with one of my musical heroes about music and Italian food and wines... I feel like nobody could believe me!! I even accept a cigarette he offers me though I quitted smoking one year and half ago! But this is a special event. The show is great again, the crowd is crazy for them as they go through:
W.S. Walcott-Stuff you gotta watch-Remedy-Back to Memphis-Blind Willie McTell-It makes no difference-Rag mama rag-Atlantic City-Long black veil-Crazy mama-The Weight-Stage fright-Instrumental blues-Must love you too much-Stand up-Shape I'm in. Encores: Genethic Method-Chest fever-High price of love-Willie and the Hand Jive. Basically the same show as last night, but with two songs more.
After the show we wait for a while, then we're on the bus again with Rick, Richard Bell and Jim Weider. Garth is taking care of his saxophones while Levon is in the back-side of the bus, so I can't meet him. But I don't mind, as I finally can give Rick three bottle of red wine I've brought from Italy and we open one and drink some all together.... I'm here, somewhere in North New York on a bus rising my glass with Rick Danko!! Everything is getting more and more incredible. He promises me that someday they will play in Italy and I promise him that I'll be there with some more wine. We shake hands, say "Good bye" to everyone and head back to the motel, the four of us together again after almost 48 hours. Back in the room we drink and talk and Jill tells us about her experience with The Band untill we fall asleep. Tomorrow we've to meet the place where the Voice of The Band is resting for a while, that's my last thought before leaving this world for some hours.
It's Sunday today and we have to say Goodbye to Gary, he can't follow us in Canada. I'm sure we'll meet again someday, so I just say "See ya!" It's 5pm when we arrive in Stratford, Ont, Richard Manuel's birthplace. The town is famous for The Shakespearian festival, but we're not here for it. We're here for: 1-meet Serge Daniloff 2-worship The Beak at his grave site Serge is one of the greatest person I've ever met in my life!!! He's friends of Garth's since the High School and he tells us a lot of stories about the Band going back to the early '60s. He shows the Church of Richard's funeral (he attended it!!), he offers us a couple of beers and finally we find ourselves sitting around a black little grave-stone saying "Richard Manuel 1943-1986". The time stops and we stay here talking for some life-long minutes, then the moment comes to an end. "See ya, Beak" says Serge and we exit the cemetery. Unfortunately he has to go back home and can't join us for our last night together. So we have to say goodbye again, and I think I've said goodbye too much times in these days.... but I know for sure I'll see all these poeple again someday!
The last night for us three pilgrims starts in a Stratford pub, where we enjoy a convenient amount of beer and then we decide to go back to see Richard once again and bring him some flowers. For some reason, the gate's still open, maybe the Beak wants to see us again too! Again time stops while we sit down around the grave, leaving flowers, Levon's pick, a cigarette signed by Rick and a couple of bracelets from me and Adela. Then we hold our hands and whisper "Country Boy" and some parts of other Richard's songs, untill Jill falls asleep. Some tears later, we wake up our friend and together go back to the motel.
It's all over now, for me this week has been something that I won't forget, in just seven days we ran across 30 years of great music. I know that my vacation here in the States isn't over yet, Houston and New Orleans and then New York again to see Neil Young in concert are still on my path, and it means a lot of good time, but this adventure is over. We close the night outside our room and while crossing that unknown line between consciousness and the Land of Dreams, I can hear my voice singin to my Soul "Where Do We Go From Here????" ...and she says "Somewhere".