The Free Range Reveleers: Highlights from a 3-month tour

by the band

photo by Dotan Saguy

Looking back on three months of touring to find the highlights is daunting. There are so many stories, good, bad, and ugly, but which ones are worth telling? On top of that we had a toddler along for the ride, which is a recipe for books of stories in itself.

There was the time, early in the trip, when the RV (Helga) broke down in Nebraska. We were there in Hastings, the birthplace of Kool-Aid, for three weeks after playing a great gig. While Banjo was learning the ins and outs of dually axels and bearings from a drag queen, Ani and little Jethro found new and exciting ways to entertain each other while cooped up in the home of Rev. W. Brown, a home for wayward art carists and musicians. We learned the gospel of the Christmas snakes, who were responsible for cleaning up that old manger in Bethlehem four days before Jesus was born. We even wrote some carols for them.

We finally got our repairs (for the whopping cost of two bags of Kit Kats) and moved on to Nashville, by way of the City Museum in St. Louis. It’s a 10-story jungle gym for children of ALL ages, which includes an airplane suspended 50 feet in the air that you can climb in and around! (Ani’s favorite) And slides galore! (Jethro’s favorite) If you need to see it to believe it you can check out our FB for videos, etc.

In Nashville we caught up with good friends, like Ani’s fairy gawdson, and stayed across the street from Gillian Welch—we didn’t actually see her though. Also while there we finished putting together the stage which now detaches from the side of the RV to host our budding medicine show. (Coming soon: Dr. Banjo’s Famous 5-String Elixir of Life!)

We got to test that stage in New Orleans, setting up in the Neutral Ground on Decatur in what Banjo likes to think of as “One of those times you get to see just how much they’ll let you get away with.” We’re calling it Vigilante Vaudeville. We can set up in +/- 15 minutes and put on a variety show anywhere we go.

From there we went to Houston for the holidays, Banjo’s homeland. While there we got a flat, which was so difficult to replace that we ended up replacing ALL the wheels AND the tires, instead. The process took three extra weeks, putting us a full Six weeks behind our original schedule, a small price to pay for convenience in emergency. In the meantime, Santa Claus himself gave us some recording time at Wonky Power Studios, where we put together our latest EP, the Pursuit of Yonder, which we named from a mad lib. And we used the down time to play as many shows as we could, including NYE for the Houston Art Car Klub (HACK) and even a tailgating party. Also we got to explore Houston’s museums, the zoo, and the aquarium, thanks to the City Pass, a bundle of discount tickets. Jethro particularly loved dressing like a lion and going to the zoo. So did the tourists. He was much livelier than the ones in their cages.

Once Helga was ready we wandered over to Austin where we had the privilege of busking with a phenomenal ragtime piano player. One radiator repair later and we were off again. Next stop: Carlsbad Caverns NP, 80-stories deep and chock full of speleothems (cave formations). Jethro now knows the difference between stalactites and stalagmites. We were all impressed that Jethro hiked at least half of the three miles, round trip, and yet managed to injure himself in the gift shop, chasing a toy bat.

On from there to Douglas, AZ where family friend, Harrod Blank, is creating Art Car World, a museum of hand decorated cars from around the country. In his collection are such gems as the Land Yacht, a Cadillac-cum-boat, complete with a helm and a whole lotta back story; the Carthedral, a hearse with a baroque living structure rising from the back, it even has gargoyles; the Colt car, one man’s journey toward sobriety—each of 1,400-plus blue toy horses was attached whenever the creator got the urge to drink; and the Camera Van, Harrod’s 2nd art car, covered in photography paraphernalia. Maybe one day, with lotsa work, Helga will make the cut for Art Car World.

From there we hit up Bisbee (cute!) and Tombstone, AZ, the sight of the famous OK Corral gunfight in the 1880s. The town has dedicated itself as a period piece and we fit right in. Doc Holliday—the outlaw dentist himself—gave Banjo a cigar!

Jethro was throwing a fit so we didn’t stay Too long before heading to California, where the price of gas suddenly doubled. Slab City, desert home of artists and wingnuts, is where we met up with a fellow RV-touring friend and had a dip in the muddiest hot springs we’ve ever seen. Then it was on to LA to see some of Ani’s family and play at Venice Beach. While there a minor repair delayed us long enough to go flying with Ani’s uncle Jerry. Jethro woke up from a nap just before boarding the plane so he was subdued until we were flying circles over Helga. After landing we asked what his favorite part was, he said “We flew way, way up high and we poked the moon!”

From there we took the coastal route up to Santa Cruz, which saw us introduced to a booking agent and bassist from the Miss Lonely Hearts, who play Bellingham frequently, then to Isis Bird Sanctuary, where Jethro got to feed his first emu.

By then we felt like we were on the home stretch, so we busted up to Grants Pass so Jethro could have a playdate with Intuitive Compass’s toddler, Theo. We have grand dreams of a baby band, Jethro loves the piano and accordion, and Theo is already a seasoned banjolele and washboard player.

After playtime we took Jethro-bug back to his mama in Eugene, where he’s staying now. Banjo’s relationship to Jethro’s mother is currently strained, but we’re looking forward to working that out. This is why we are teaming up with the Deacon’s Ruse vaudeville troupe to put on a benefit show hootenanny on March 19 at Café Bouzingo. This will be an aid for Banjo to navigate the legal system to give Jethro the best possible experience of co-parenting, part of the proceeds will go to Whatcom County’s Dispute Resolution Center. We hope everyone will come out to the show to see some of the new antics we’ve come up with on our tour—including Granny Bananny, Ani’s great-grandma, a folk legend hired by Ani’s family to chaperone the unmarried couple; and Clarence, the magical unicorn, who will blow your mind, or not. Deacon’s Ruse will add their own vaudeville flair and Hot Damn Scandal will play a set. The show starts at 7 p.m. for the kiddos, 9 p.m. for the not-so-kiddos. If we’re lucky that baby band might even get to play!

Thanks for reading folks Free Range Reveleers, signing off.

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Published in the March 2016 issue of What’s Up! Magazine