Josh Ritter - 10/18/07 - Nebraska Rock and Roll

Music Features Josh Ritter
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It’s nine thirty in the morning and we are zooming through Nebraska after an all-night ride from Minneapolis.  The ground here is so flat that it’s hard to tell whether the standing water that we pass on either side is river, creek or lake.  Old bales of hay seem to have been left to melt in rolls in the fields, and much of the ground is still green.  We’ve been passing old Pony Express stations and countless naked cottonwood trees, and oak trees with branches are the color of bone.

Don Spitler, our bus driver, is trying to get us past North Platte before the massive thunderstorm being predicted hits.  We’ll see if he makes it!

The last week has passed so quickly that looking at the tour book it seems as if the time is melting away in the same way as the hay bales.  There hasn’t been a moment to sit down and write about everything that’s been happening.

In the last week we’ve played Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Lewisburg, Charleston, Chicago and Minneapolis.  My days have started fairly early with a combination of radio shows, press interviews over the phone and in-stores followed by soundcheck and shows.  I also try and keep up my running as much as possible, as 14 hours in a bus gets you a bit jumpy and it helps to work off the extra energy.  After the show I meet with folks and then get back on the bus sometime between midnight and one.  After a show it takes a while to calm down so we all usually stay up and watch a movie.  It’s not incredibly rock, but then neither are we.

Outside the wind is blowing almost directly across the bus and we just passed a camel - the world’s most confused, unlucky camel.  We get out at the Flying J travel plaza and the temperature is 40 degrees.  The wind is one long whip and it spreads out the birds in their flocks into long sentences.  They are moving across the sky so fast that mid-air collisions would be a hazard, so I guess that’s why they spread out.  They look like bb’s.

Our day off this week was in Cleveland, Ohio and that meant a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

It is odd being a band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame museum and not being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  None of the stuff looks real and it’s hard to equate this crystalline and Windex-ed environment with the actual lifestyle of three p.m. gear load ins, the stale smell of beer, sticky floors and sweat, and the happy-tired feeling at the end of the show. 

The whole place felt like a tribute to a tribute to the musical revue based on the t.v. miniseries about rock ‘n’ roll.  When you take away the music, all you have is costumes, instruments and the few examples of rebellion deemed vestigial enough to show to an all-ages audience.  The effect is disconcerting.  As you walk through the striations of rock history, past the display cases with records, the video wall with the obligatory “rock is really about free expression” and into the shrine dedicated to the usual suspects of the ‘60s and ‘70s, you start to get the distinct feeling that you’re being encouraged to believe that the great music has all been made in the past, that the ‘60s were about funny, gentle looking people who were all geniuses, that drugs did not exist and that the real credentials by which to judge artistic achievement is having Tipper Gore dislike your music.  Talk about giving the finger to The Man!  In fact, the museum really felt less like any kind of tribute to music than a self-congratulatory slap on the back to the baby boom generation.

What was I expecting?  Not much more than I got.  It was fun seeing some of the outfits and Janis Joplin’s car. I enjoyed the photos and the angry letters from Rolling Stone editors to a perpetually behind the deadline Hunter Thompson, the exhibit on sound systems and some of the gear was pretty cool.  But in the end I felt like I do when I come out of a mall - wondering what all the trappings are supposed to add up to.

The real rock halls of fame are the venues that hundreds of bands pass through each year.  These places, from community halls to old vaudeville theaters to tetanus traps in big and small towns across the world are where the real histories are made.  These are the places where the house sound guy is cranky, the bartenders come in early and manage to work through hundreds of soundchecks, where guest lists and attendance numbers are haggled over, where posters are hung and taken down and hung again and where people - strangers - come and hang out with each other to listen to music played in the moment by other people.  I think these kinds of halls are great enough.

We’re passing over into Colorado.  Tonight, Jesse Sykes will be joining me for a show at the Fox Theater in Boulder. 

After that we head to Salt Lake City for a day off (and time to do some serious, serious laundry!) and then make our way to my home state for a show at the Egyptian theater in Boise.

I wish I could convey properly how exciting and gratifying these shows are.  It’s just such a great time to be playing music and I want you to know how lucky the band and I feel to be playing it!

Be Well,

October 18, 2007
(Just over the border with Colorado)

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