America is an enigma in many ways. It's all things to all people. That's what I always tell my European friends. It's very hard to get to grips with it when you skim over the surface with a tour like this, frequenting fast food joints, truck stops and spending way too many hours on freeways BUT every once in a while you make these connections with the real side of it all, usually in the form of snatches of conversations, meals, bits of radio broadcasts or chance meetings and glimpses into folks' lives. And so it was during the two weeks we spent flying up and down the East Coast and then skirmishing out to the Mid West, ending our trip, slap bang in the middle of the country in Kansas City, where we had some of the most incredible barbecued ribs, chicken and pulled pork I've ever tasted (thanks to Rachel's family - and thanks to Rachel for a GREAT job on selling merchandise for us). If you've never tasted real American barbecue, you haven't lived and KC is rightly proud of its heritage in this meat capital of the US. You've got your dry rubs and wet rubs and they even have whole festivals featuring music and competitions to celebrate the art of barbecue. We played at one once near Chicago called RibFest. There were 30,000 people there!
Knuckleheads is, like its name suggests, a honky tonk BUT that would be fooling you because the band plays outside on a large stage beside the railroad tracks and the sound system is better than any honky tonk sound system I've ever heard. Talking of freight trains, these things trundled by 2 or three times during our set and let out the loudest whistles you've ever heard, completely drowning out the band, but in truth it all added to the vibe. I've heard this sound echoed in the playing of Chuck Berry who was able to emulate car horns and train whistles with his guitar licks. His daughter, Ingrid, did the same with her blues harp when she joined us on stage at Wildey Theater on the prior night. We seemed to hit a lot of places on this tour with Irish names: Fitzgerald's near Chicago and Callahan's in Berwyn Illinois, being two that really do support live music. Great nights in both of 'em.
BB Kings Club rocked to the sounds of the Ash and I'm pretty proud of the band and crew in the way that we navigated the whole New York stress thing. Tom Greenwood produced a killer sound for us at this place, as he did in many others on the tour. My son Aynsley and his girlfriend Tara came by and as usual, we had our merry band of well-wishers cheering us on the way. In some cases people joined us for whole stretches of our tour. Brits, Ian and Doreen from Chester - (I know you have been road warriors in the past but even you would admit that this was on another level this time). Atsuko and Pat, Steve and Ramona, Steve, Claudia and the gang from Milwaukee, Wally and Kathy - a great time had by all at the Ramshead Tavern in Annapolis, John and Mary - your hospitality was superb when we played in your home town of Mishawaka. Scott, I know I forgot your credit on the new CD. That's because you are a friend first and 'crew' second. (That's my excuse.) Thanks yet again for fixing our trailer door at the steel works in Youngstown, Ohio.
The band and I said our goodbyes in KC and I took the freeway home. My GPS said the journey would take around 20 hours but of course it took longer, what with gas stops and oh yes, sleep. The weather was good. I surfed radio stations, mostly NPR for news and yes, checked in with some of the inordinate number of Evangelical type radio shows. During one, we listeners were unequivocally told that there would be, in all certainty, a second coming in 1000 years and that Christ would return on an actual golden throne and this would herald in a new Creation. Quite how the two presenters could guarantee all this and secondly why they seemed so excited about it all was beyond me but that's another America. Towards the end of my journey, I seemed to be traveling through the beautiful Pocono Mountains for hours but it was quite ok, the weather being very nice. In the past, during winter, I've travelled these mountains on the notorious Interstate 80 and it can be one of the worst journeys you'll ever undertake where, it is not unusual to encounter snow, ice storms and fog all at the same time, to say nothing of the maniacal 18 wheeler truck drivers that hunt you down and pay absolutely no attention to the weather or speed limits. It's all about delivering that load on time. I once counted 11 trucks overturned or off the road during a snow storm on this highway.
We all remarked how despite the greater distances, the fatigue and work load, the band seemed to be playing much better on this tour if that's even possible. An American tour definitely shakes the dust from off your shoes and I personally can't wait to do it again in November when hopefully we'll hit the West Coast.