Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Trip to the Badlands and Black Hills

I'd only heard about the Badlands but never have been. It's been a busy summer and I didn't have any days off either with work or the band so my wife and I set aside some time for a little road trip of our own. We hopped in our little car and headed West from St. Paul, MN. On interstate 90 you cannot miss the signs for Wall Drug, one of the most famous gift shops in the country. I think we counted some 40 cartoon-like signs on the 8 and a half hour trip. "Cowboy Up - Wall Drug," "5 cent Coffee at Wall Drug," "Free ice water - Wall Drug,"  and the many mile count downs to the place. The ride is pretty flat until you get further west, then you start to see some big rolling hills and acres and acres of yellow Sunflowers which was a real beautiful site to see.

Near the end of our trek across South Dakota we saw our first glimpse of "Badlands" style formations about the size of a few cars. "Oh look there's the Badlands" we joked and laughed. "There it is. Lets turn back." But then then we turned our heads to the other side of the road and saw these HUGE vast formations and we both fell silent and then "WOW!!" Really cool to see stuff like this for the first time. It is like they say about it looking like the surface of the moon or some strange sci-fi landscape. Now I was getting excited to see more. We approached the national park and had a couple hours before check-in so we drove through and walked a couple trails and fed some Prarie Dogs. Apparently they love peanuts. It got really hot here and we found it difficult to follow some of their trails as some of them were poorly marked but we found our way.

Our first night we stayed in a little cabin of our our in Wall, SD. We walked down to Wall Drug of course and spent some time there checking out all the jewelry, leather goods, shirts and knick knacks. After that, we grilled some brats and watched the sun set.

The following day was spent hiking more Badlands trails and then driving up to Hisega. We stayed at the oldest lodge in the Black Hills called the Hisega Lodge. This bed and breakfast was located right on a river in the woods. Just a gorgeous location. The owners were very kind and told us of the history of the lodge as well as some of the paranormal experiences which my wife and I were very eager to hear about. We spent the evening on the second floor front porch outside our room eating take-out and playing dominoes with the loud sound of the river just down below, waiting to see if an apparition of women in white would walk by.

Breakfast at the Hisega was amazing. Some sort of delicious peach cake and a breakfast pizza. We sat all together at one table with the other guests and got to know how everyone else's trips were going. From here we traveled north through more of the Black Hills and met up with a woman who would take us on a horseback ride for a couple hours. It was just three of us so that was pretty great.  I've been on a horse a few times and really liked the experience so I thought it would be cool out here too. Our guide Barbara was awesome. I learned about Western geological words like "Gultch," "Bench" and "Butte." She took us through the woods and up the side of this huge hill that opened up to this great overlook of the land below and also saw Deadwood in the distance. I was pretty overwhelmed looking out at this point with a really intense feeling. Some sort of spiritual "fit" to the experience and the surroundings. My horse was named Scarlet and Brigid rode a wheezing horse named Doc.

Barbara gave us some tips on were to go from there to get to Deadwood so we followed her directions on 14A through the Black Hills.

Alot of "wow"s from Brigid and I passing through here. Rivers, creeks, mountains and forests on these hilly winding roads. We stopped for an "Indian Taco" for lunch. It's basically a Native American fry bread with taco fixin's on top.

We arrived at the famous wild west city of Deadwood.

It was really cool here. Settled in a neat valley. You might know Deadwood from the TV show too. We just started watching it the night we got back from this trip. Wild Bill Hickok was killed here. Calamity Jane lived there and Seth Bullock was the sheriff. This late 1800's era town used to be home to cowboys and miners with lots of brothels, gambling and daily murders. I wore my western wear and someone asked me if I was part of the reenactment that happened 3 times a day in the streets. I think my longish hair and mustache helped on that point. Still alot of slot machine casino stuff here. We wanted to get up to the old cemetery but just didn't have enough time.
We stayed at the Bullock Hotel that Seth Bullock owned. The Bullock is also famous for being a major haunted location. Of course we had to stay there! In fact the whole city has been known as the "City of The Dead" as so many people have witnessed paranormal activity in most of it's buildings and houses.  Kitty corner from the Bullock is The Farimont Hotel which is also notably haunted (check out Dead Files and Ghost Lab TV shows). We were so lucky to get our own ghost tour at The Bullock and later after hours with Fairmont owner Bob Rousseau! Brigid and I came prepared with a video camera, EMF detectors and voice recorders.

In the Bullock we got to spend some time alone in the basement at the end of our tour. Brigid and I sat at the bar. At one point I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and Brigid got the same feeling and as this happened we got a couple good readings on our EMF detector. It was for sure an odd feeling that lasted quite a few minutes. We explored other areas but this was the most significant moment for us.

In the Farimont we walked through the building after closing time with the owner Bob. At one point, we stood on the 2nd floor in this big long open room where renovations were being made. We all heard something that sounded like a woman real quick from the next room! Both the 2nd and 3rd floors had a spooky feel to them in spots as well. I kept looking over my shoulder having the feeling that someone else was just behind me. We also hung out in a room were a woman had jumped out the window. Bob also showed us the documents of the day signed by Sol Star (partner to Seth Bullock) describing the suicide.

While in Deadwood we got our pictures taken at one of those "old west" photo places!

I felt like I wanted a steak and a whiskey in this old town so we got some food and drinks later in the evening, walked the streets and played some slot machines.

In the morning it was breakfast at Bully's at the hotel and then we got in the car and headed back. 10 hours to home. Really great time. We packed alot in! I think we might head back some day as there is so much more to see including Mt. Rushmore and the Crazy Horse monument as well as some other key haunted locations.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Three States and No Brakes

The Mad-Dub-Chi Tour
Little Man headed out on a small regional tour this past weekend hitting Madison, Dubuque and Chicago, supporting the new album Original Face. It's pretty fun to hit some cool cities over a long weekend and build up more fans and sell some albums. Brian Herb and Sean Gilchrist and I hopped in Walley the Waldoch van and headed out on the road. Meanwhile Brian is in the back asking me about this window shade that has been broken for a couple days, so he took the time to take it all apart while we were in route and totally fixed it! Brian is a true problem solving engineer. I should leave something broken in the van the next time we head out so he has something to do on the drive.

Our first show was in the Madison, WI area, to a place called True Coffee.
First time there, in fact all the clubs we played this time were firsts for us. True Coffee is indeed a coffee house. They roast, brew and serve their own coffee. I was a little unsure about playing there but they say they book all kinds of music. On the bill were a couple solo acoustic acts and a teen trio. It was all ages so the audience was pretty mixed but there were alot of people at this show, so we were very happy. Super small stage for us but we did our thing and enjoyed the set. The headliner brought up his guitar student, who was only 10 years old, and he sang and played his own song and was AMAZING!! The staff was super nice there.

This show was fairly early so we headed back to the place we were staying which was Sean's sister-in-law. Really fun spending time with her, her husband and 3 young girls. That home environment is a good feeling on the road for sure. They have great place across the street from the big lake so we grabbed some beers and hung out lakeside. So nice.

Buying breakfast groceries.
After a big home made breakfast we headed for Dubuque, Iowa and rolled into the Holiday Inn. Nice place! Only two blocks from the club. We also met up with our friend Bryan who was at the show in Madison and wanted to help with gear and merch. We got some press here too so that was cool to see! For food we got a tip to have a burger at Paul's bar so after load in we walked over. This little place was full with taxidermy! All sorts of animals and it was all in these blue lit glass cases that were showcased up high. It was only 8:30pm and people were already lit here. Got bumped into by a couple people walking by and the whole bar stared at me as I sat alone waiting for the guys to return from a smoke. "Who does that guy look like to you??" one guy said and kept pointing and yelling. Johnny Depp was the first response. Uhm sorta, gotten that before so that wasn't so bad. Zappa almost always. Guys get back here already!

Back at The Lift, the show started off with a guitar and vocal duo and fair amount of folks here too. We played two sets and the crowd ended up dwindling but this one guy stood right up in front the whole night dancing.
At one point he dragged over this huge 3 foot or so log to the front and danced with it. It was just hilarious. He was having a great time and so were we!

Photo by Bryan Ludwikoski At The Lift!

After a noon check out, breakfast was at a diner a block from the hotel towards the river. "Sunshine" or something like that it was called. It was just what we needed. Good, very inexpensive food. Sean got the catfish which was deep fried and served to him whole without the fish head. After he was done, all that was left was the full fish bone skeleton and he said he felt like Heathcliff as he held it up for us to see.

At 1pm we roll on to Chicago. 20East out of Dubuque towards Chicago across Illinois is an absolute beautiful drive in the summer. Lots of big rolling green hills and farmland with cool little towns to pass through. I loved Galena, the home of Ulysses S. Grant. This river town was so civil war era looking. I was telling the guys that and then we passed U.S. Grants house and was like "see!!".

So we're driving along on the highway, and Sean was driving, and I look over and the brake light on the dash was on. "Did you hit the emergency brake by accident Sean?" I asked. "No" he replied. After pressing on the brake pedal we knew we had a problem.  - "We have no breaks!! (pause...we each looked at each other) "AAAAHHHHHHH!!!!" Deepest secrets were confessed at 70 mph. -

Well it didn't quite happen like that but it was a bit scary! We were able to exit and get to a gas station to inspect further. We needed break fluid. Bought that, put it in. But then we checked underneath and when we pressed on the brakes it sprayed out the back axle area. This was a bigger problem. Brian got on the phone right away calling service stations. Most were closed. Two were open and one of them had the part we needed and it was 15 miles away in Rockford.
We had to get there quick because they closed in an hour. We knew we could make it if we were very careful. I took the wheel and could press the brake pedal almost to the floor with hardly any resistance but enough to stop the van given plenty of space. Seat belts on and back on the highway. Never hit the brakes. Coasted onto the exit to the stop light. Three stop signals to go! Slowly and giving plenty of space between us and the car ahead, we made it to the service station. The whole brake line needed to be replaced. Staying after hours they were able to do that for us. Whew!! We were so thankful. Still going to make the show. We left them an album too. Chicago or bust!!!
Walley and me

It is so fun for me to return to Chicago because I lived there for 8 years and started Little Man there. Tonight we play The Green Room which is a part of The Abbey Pub. The Abbey's main stage was a Mexican Wrestling event. Rock and wrestling. Our openers were really good with a ripping Chicago blues sound and the headliner was and excellent Americana rock style musician Benjamin Cartel with his band. Real nice people from Brooklyn. Super songwriting skills. Our show was great too. We rocked it. Also big thanks to our Brian Herb for fixing another situation as there was no sound man here!

It felt real good to play in the city again and a group of friends of all of ours showed up to see us. Real happy to see and hang out with old friends. Afterwards we headed over to The Long Room as I know the owners Clark and Jason. It was so cool to be there again. Love stopping by after a show here. Great to catch up. After that we stayed over at my good friend Dave Cottini's place and stayed up late with more friends.
Little Man at The Green Room Pub
Great photo Deb Sonzo!!

Thanks Beth for this late night or early morning Instagram shot!
In the morning we got up pretty early and headed back up to the Twin Cities. Walley surpassed 140,000 miles on the way home! This trip was just over 1000.

My band mates are the best. They are great musicians. I love touring with them and am thankful for their friendship and that special musician band bond comradery. We could have gotten into a serious accident but made it to all our destinations safely. Thanks to all who came out and supported us on this little run. Until next time!!