This weekend The Dixie-Bee Liners headed north to play in Ohio and Michigan. The festival we were booked at was a full day’s drive, so we picked up a routing date in Dayton at the Canal Street Tavern. The club reminded me of the Station Inn in Nashville. It’s been around since the early eighties and the walls of the back room are covered in graffiti and stickers, which have been consistently and painstakingly altered to reflect the most juvenile locker-room humor.
A flyer in the Canal Street Tavern for a Frank Wakefield show a few years back.
The bar walls are adorned with blown up copies (at least 4 by 5 feet) of autographed black and white 8 x 10 publicity pictures of the very young Riders in the Sky, and New Grass Revival, among others.
Unfortunately, summer is the wrong time to play at this place, as there are so many other activities going on in the city. For example, there is a baseball park right across the street. There were lots of people at the game. There were seven paying customers to watch us play. So it goes.
But the gig got us cheap hotel rooms for the night, and that was really the point anyway. At least that’s what we tell ourselves when seven people come to a show. The next two days at the Niles, Mich., bluegrass festival were considerably better. We played two sets each day. The festival is free to all attendees and is held in the city’s riverfront park.
Friday night we alternated sets with the John Cowan Trio, which is Jeff Autry on guitar and Shad Cobb on fiddle, in addition to John on bass. I’ve been knowing Jeff since I was young but I hardly ever see him, so it was awesome to get to catch up and hang out a little bit. Shad and John also live in Nashville, but I also never see them. Actually, Shad’s brother Jesse lives two houses down from me so I occasionally see him out mowing Jesse’s grass for him. What a nice brother.
Us on stage with Cowan: Casey Henry, Shad Cobb, Rachel Renee Johnson, John Cowan, and Jeff Autry.
John was extremely nice and asked Rachel (our fiddle player) and me up on stage during their set to pick a couple tunes. Actually, I was sitting in our van, eating a couple of crackers with almond butter before our second set and I thought I heard my name, then I thought I heard it again and I realized it was John, from on stage, saying “Oh, Casey…” I shoved the rest of the cracker in my mouth, grabbed my case from the back of the van and hotfooted to over to the stage (about fifty yards), with Rachel not far behind. I jammed on my picks and whipped my banjo out of its case, only a little out of breath.
Rachel and Shad twinned “Dixie Hoedown” (I was extremely glad she and I had played it just the day before, as the break is largely melodic), and then John sang “Rose of Old Kentucky” in C, which I kicked off. Actually, when I kicked into it I totally had “Little Georgia Rose” in my head (I have the two songs terminally confused in my brain), so the kickoff sounded extremely awkward, but I survived, and Rachel got to sing harmony on the chorus, making her aunt (who has a huge crush on John Cowan) terribly jealous.
Our own sets went fine. We tend to skew our material in a more traditional direction at festivals. Brandi sang “Foggy Mountain Top,” the Davis Sisters version, not the Carter Family version, and someone actually complimented me afterwards on my up-the-neck break on it, which really tickled me. I met several Murphy Method students over the weekend, which is always a treat.
The festival ended in a hurry on Saturday night as a storm was moving in. In the lightning and thunder with the sky about to open up any second we threw our gear and instruments into the van and made a beeline for our hotel. My drive home the next day ended up being ten and a half hours. Buddy, Brandi and Rachel had twelve, and Sav had fourteen. Come to think of it, next weekend I'LL have fourteen. Why do I even call myself a professional musician? I should call myself a professional driver!