The Neuse River Bus: A Road Trip to Art of Sound
I went by Moose Dooley’s house early this morning. It was dawn-thirty Harvey Standard Time. The sun peeked over the horizon. We’d had the first frost of the year. I followed the Moose tracks through the back yard. ”Is it ready?”
Moose gave the door a tug, and it creaked open. “We’ll find out.”
We keep the Neuse River converted school bus (our tour bus) behind Moose Dooley’s shed. When we were young we went to a festival almost every weekend, at least when I wasn’t on call. We always went in the tour bus, even if was just across town. Art of Sound is the last festival on our schedule this year. After this one, the bus will go under the cover for the winter. For now though, it has been up and running all summer so we should be set.
In the winter we keep it under an old canvas circus tent that serves as a cover. We get it back out every spring. Stroker, our guitar man, is a mechanic. He charges the battery and changes the oil. Moose and I hose it off, Jen sweeps out the cobwebs, and it is ready to go. It is a low (?no) maintenance vehicle.
We bought it at the Shanghai School House County auction at least twenty-five years ago. We never had that big an entourage, so we took out the seats except for the front four rows. Moose’s father- in-law gave him a couple couches he’d found at the dump. Moose secured them to the floor, and got few seat belts at the junk yard so we wouldn’t get thrown off in the floor if we tried to take a nap while on the road.
We bolted an old coffee table in between the couches. Most of the time it served as a place to play cards, but also was our business conference table. All high level negotiations for the band took place right there. Moose threw together many an improvisational contract on that card table. For years folks didn’t realize he wasn’t a real lawyer.
We used to have trailer we tugged along back, but one year the hitch broke. The trailer got loose and wound up at the bottom of Lake Hickory. We were just glad it was empty. Raymond the fiddler had gone on a beer run while we set up the sound, so we didn’t lose any equipment.
The bus didn’t have a bathroom, but there used to be a five gallon metal bucket at the back exit door that had a rope tied to it. If we ran late for a show someone could use it then toss it out the back door as we rolled down the highway. You didn’t have to let it rattle along the asphalt very long for it to empty and dry out, then you could reel it back in. This worked okay till we got older and some of the guys developed prostate issues. (Plus we became more conscious of the enviroment.) The bucket got lost around Waxhaw one night when the rope broke, and we didn’t get around to replacing it.
“Who all’s playing this one?” Moose asked.
Good line up. I went last year. Darin and Brooke Aldridge, Balsam Range, FlintHill. Besides bluegrass there’s everything from zydeco to calypso.”
“Cool. Shelby. The home of Earl Scruggs, right?”
“Yep. Don Gibson too. They’ve got a Scruggs Museum and Don Gibson theatre in town.”
“I’d like to see that.”
”It’s not up and running yet, but will be soon. They’ve got Marty Stuart coming in November.”
Moose noticed a cracked window on the starboard side. “You seen the duct tape?” I opened the glove box, retrieved a roll, and handed it to him. ”Thanks.” Moose found the cardboard and began to board up the window. “Say they’re having Marty Stuart?”
“That’s next month at the Gibson Theater.”
“I’d love to open for Marty.”
”Heck of a player,” I said.
”I tell you man, when we played with him at Hartford’s he was a hoss.”
I thought back to those old Christmas parties at John Hartford’s house. Hartford, Bill Monroe , Marty Stuart, Benny Martin. John sure knew how to throw together a jam session. “We gotta get in with this Art of Sound crowd. Word on the street is they know all the rank and file musicians in that part of the state. Honest to goodness, man; it’s a music town.”
“Didn’t we play the fairground there one year?”
“Yeah. It was the year Monroe was there.”
“If I remember right they only had a few hundred people.”
“Yeah, that was twenty-five years ago, though. I’m telling you, someone over there has revitalized the local music scene. I think it’s the Arts Council in town.”
Moose fished the keys out of his pocket, and put them in the ignition. “I’m gonna crank it up. Go outside and check.”
Moose turned the ignition several times and stomped on the gas. The engine emitted a high-pitched whine, then strained and sputtered. It finally turned over. Black smoke poured out of the tailpipe. I went back up front to give Moose the diagnosis. “We gotta get Stroker to rebuild this dude over the winter.” He turned it off, got the grocery list out of his front pocket, and handed it to me.
I looked it over. “Good Lord Moose, we don’t eat any better than we used to.” Viennas, Penrose sausage, Kobe string potatoes, salt and vinegar chips. “You got any low cholesterol food on there?” I had him check it again.
Moose put on his glasses. “Hm. At least we don’t have streaky meat sandwiches anymore.” He handed it back.
“I guess.” I folded up the paper and put it in my pocket. “I’ll go by the Piggly-Wiggly tonight.
”What time can you split?”
I gotta work the morning, but I can get away by 2:00. They got blues, jazz, a little of everything. Did you ever hear The Harris Brothers?”
”Best electric suitcase going.”
”Yeah, boy. Let’s go jam hard. We’re gonna hit the stage there one day.”
”…If we can just keep Raymond the fiddler out of the moonshine.”
”No kidding. Hey, you remember when he had a nip and sang ‘Little Cabin Home on the Hill’ in Arabic? And I’ll never forget that gig at Fat Boy’s……”
It’s gonna be a fine road trip.
For info on Art of Sound click on the AOS logo at the Cleveland County Arts Council website. Here’s the link:
And here is the clip of Darin and Brooke Aldridge at the IBMA in Nashville. They play twice at Art of Sound, Thursday night and Saturday:
This song is ‘The Sweetest Waste of Time,’ one that came in for them from Australia. It is a perfect country duet. Their new release will have tunes by Tom T. Hall, Jerry Salley, Donna Ulisse, and their original material too. A group not to miss.
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