Go Out Yonder ...
by Adela Calbillo
...Peace in the valley. As I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, August the 6th and got ready to leave the house to make my flight to St. Louis to meet the great Jill Howland, I was surprisingly calm. Very surprising considering that I was already calling this trip "The Event Of My Life" even before it started, and we were going to go to New York to meet up with the other great young Banddandy of the world, Paolo Demaria, and then travel the state to see The Band! This was not the first time this year I'd traveled just to see the Band in concert, as I'd flown to Los Angeles back in May by myself to see them at the House of Blues and was rewarded with the greatest concert I'd ever seen, not to mention some pictures of me with the guys and Levon's drumstick and my very own backstage pass. So maybe that's why I was calmer than usual on this significant morning.
I made sure I was one of the first people on the plane for two reasons: to have first dibs on the overhead compartment for my guitar, and so I could see Jill as soon as possible when I got off the plane. And there she was, waiting for me right in front of the gate, and snapping a picture to record the historic occasion! Meeting her, and later, Paolo, was for me almost like coming home to family. Maybe certain people thought it was highly eccentric for us youngsters to travel across the country and world to meet each other and hang out for a week, but for us, it was completely natural and we all got nothing but good vibes from each other.
So Jill and I hauled ass from Cleveland to New York, singing and listening to great music including The Band the whole time, and we pulled into the Chelsea Hotel before schedule. Soon her old Band friend Gary Marsden was there to meet us and not long after that, my old Band friend Paolo Demaria. The first thing we did after we took pictures and exchanged gifts, was to get drunk and jam until the wee hours, playing Band songs, of course!
After 2 days carousing the streets of New York City, it was time to drive up to Saugerties as we had an appointment to see and tour the actual house--Big Pink. I'd called several weeks before to make the appointment and contrary to what it may seem, was honestly interested in purchasing the property someday. I mean, what more could I ever want in life? And I'm glad I made the appointment because I could've never found the place on my own. It really is nestled deep in the woods down many winding roads that evoked for all of us the image of Richard Manuel speeding down these very roads. The realtor took me through the basement while the others waited outside, and it was all I could do to behave myself. He showed me the bedrooms, closets, bathrooms ("Probably the same toilet Dylan himself sat on!" he said). No doubt. The thing that first struck me about the house was that the color was a little more "peach" than "pink." Music from big peach! Ha ha! OK, maybe not.
Anyway, after that we toured Woodstock--OK, just Tinker street--and made our way to the artist Kitrick Short's house. He recently moved from Hawaii to Woodstock and has created many, many Band-inspired works of art. We sat around and drank wine and talked about the Band and listened to--who else?--the Band! Later that night, we found a quaint Saugerties motel and got drunk in our motel room.
Finally it was Friday and that meant the very first Band concert that we would see together and also the very first Band concert EVER for Paolo! So we drove up to Latham and proceeded to get ready. For me and Paolo, that meant plenty o' Southern Comfort and I also had to get all gussied up. I'd gone all out for these concerts: new dresses, new shoes, new jewelry, AND of course, the legendary but modest Band tattoo. Situated on my left hip, it simply says "The Band", surrounded by decorative lines and squiggles. I got it last month in preparation for this adventure.
As it turns out, it was one hell of an investment, the best one I ever made. More on THAT later! So we went to the concert venue plenty of time before showtime, and flashed our backstage passes. Jill's roadie buddies greeted us and treated us like old friends. Unfortunately, once the tour bus arrived me and Paolo had to make ourselves scarce while Jill kept making her connections. She made a hell of a connection with somebody because the next thing I knew, she was going to Buffalo with the Band on the tour bus that night, and I was jealous as hell! Never been so jealous in my entire life. But I got over it enough to enjoy the concert and afterwards, show my tattoo to all the important people backstage like Garth, who said, "Whoooooaaaa!!!" and then, "What does it say?" The Band split promptly, taking our little buddy Jill with them, and me and Paolo celebrated the evening by getting drunk and staying up all night.
The next day he and I hauled ass to North Tonawanda for the second show, singing and listening to great music including the Band the whole time. In fact, this was the first time either of us had been lucky enough to meet someone else who would sing Band songs with us AND harmonize as well! North Tonawanda reminded me of some small southern town out of a Beth Henley movie, and I found it quite charming. The venue was damn near impossible to find but we did, and then got a room in a cute cabin on the lake and it was time to get ready for the show by then. Again with the gussying-up and Southern Comfort which, by the way Jill, thanks again for introducing us to it! At the venue, me and Paolo met up with Gary again (he'd dropped out of the tour after Woodstock) and we hung out and waited for Jill and the tour bus to roll in. About 2 hours later, they did. Jill had some wild stories to tell us, but she only had time for anecdotes because then we all got to go on the tour bus with her and hang out with Rick before the show! I must say here that Rick is my absolute favorite Band member for many reasons, including the fact that I've met him twice before in the last 3 years and he's always been a sweetheart. Well, when I pulled up my dress that night on the bus to show him the tattoo, the first thing he did was to pull me close and kiss it! Wow. I'd wanted Garth to be the first one to touch it, but I think I can live with Rick's kiss!
Rick was great to us the whole evening, and especially to Paolo, who HAD come all the way from ITALY to be there that night! And the show that night was incredible. The Band was NAILS, and it was a special treat for me that they opened with "W.S. Walcott" on both nights. Now there's a song that I never thought I'd see done live. Hell, it's still a dream come true that I've even seen the Band at all in my life, as I just knew back in 1986 when Richard Manuel ended it all that I'd never, ever see the Band. I was 14 at the time and I still vividly remember the misery I felt when I heard of Richard's death.
Anyway, so after the show we went back on the tour bus and hung out some more with all of them. Such a night. And as we said goodbye to all the great people we'd met that night, it was hard for me to believe that we still had one more mission to complete the next day: worshipping the grave of the late, great Richard "The Beak" Manuel.
The next day we said goodbye to Gary again and drove through Niagara, stopping briefly because, well, we felt we had to. Then we found our way to Stratford, Ontario and found our next compadre, the personable Serge Daniloff. We were impressed by his kindness, his enthusiasm, his warmth, and his really good looks (at least, me and Jill were!). After enjoying some beers at a local pub, Serge drove us to the cemetery and took us straight to Richard's grave. I think we all kind of quieted down a little, and I know that now as I look at the many pictures we took there that day, I look uncharacteristically stoic. We all sat down with Richard and reminisced about him and remembered the good times of that Band era, even if me, Jill and Paolo were just little kids when those good times were going on. Jill left a Rick Danko cigarette and a Levon Helm guitar pick in the dirt by the grave.
After the cemetary, Serge bid us farewell until the next time, and later that night, around midnight, we returned to the cemetary to lay flowers on Richard's grave as he'd had none there before. I guess you could say we'd also had some more beer that night, and I wanted to leave something of me behind too, so I reckon that's why I took off my silver bracelet and lay it across the grave. Paolo took off a bracelet he was wearing as well and intertwined it with mine. We all held hands and sang "Country Boy" in its entirety, plus fragments of some other notable Beak songs. I don't mind saying that I had to cry just a little at that point.
Thus, our journey ended. The next day we all bade farewell to each other (until the next time) at our various airports, except Paolo came back to Houston with me for another week so we could have just a little more time together to listen to the Band, sing Band songs, watch Band videos, and talk about the Band. After all, what else is there to a well-spent life?