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.

Dr. B

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.

Dr. B

Explore posts in the same categories: memorable gigs, Writing


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8 Comments on “The Neuse River Bus: A Road Trip to Art of Sound”

  1. junebugger Says:

    WHAT an adventure…I can’t wait till I graduate university so I can get out and make some good memories like yours. With school I’m glued to my desk.

  2. drtombibey Says:


    I always studied hard, but carved out a little time for fun even then. I have to say though, in school both time and money are in short supply and you have to be creative.

    Dr. B

  3. Simpkins Says:

    Thats great Dr. B : )

    • drtombibey Says:


      About the time the school bus rolls onto I-85 follow us on in. It’ll be a fine stretch of music. They start tomorrow night.

      Dr. B

  4. Cindy Carter Says:

    Ranger Dog still remembers the bus and the time you all broke down at the farm. He still wonders if he will ever get to rid the bus and stick his head out the window.

    I told him not to get his hopes up. But, he gets this glint in his eyes when he thinks of all those windows!

    He says that he’s not scared of Moose any more either.

  5. drtombibey Says:


    Bill Monroe called his bus ‘The Bluegrass Breakdown.’
    The Neuse River converted school bus is worthy of a similar title. But whenever we break down we find kindness from strangers and animals, esp dogs. I guess it is ’cause Moose ain’t far from being a wild animal himself, but he is harmless.

    Dr. B

  6. That sounds like an amazing tour-bus, Dr. B. Will you be taking it on your book tour, too? That would be amazing – but I bet you won’t want to then. Still, it sounds like a place so full of memories that anyone reading your book would want to see it.

  7. drtombibey Says:


    It is so old and ricketedy I am not sure if it would make the trip. Years ago the Statler Brothers used to travel some in an old bread truck. It got so bad they had to put it on the back of a semi truck and then unload at the city limits and drive it into town. I don’t know if my book will sell enough to afford all that but it is a good idea.

    Dr. B

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