Standing Stones…

According to wikipedia “Huntingdon was settled in 1767 by the Rev. Dr. William Smith on the site of a famous Indian council ground, near the spot where Standing Stone Creek flows into the Juniata River. The spot was marked by the erection of a “Standing Stone Monument” erected at the borough centenary and rumored to exist before the founding of the original village which was called Standing Stone.” How appropriate, given Orkney is famed for it’s Standing Stones (see Ring of Brodgar pic). No sign of the standing stone here so far, but we have found the Standing Stone Cafe and in honour of the connection are going to break out the instruments and play a few tunes in there tonight at 9pm. A good chance to get warmed up before the next show tomorrow night. If you happen to be passing, come in along. The sun is blazing again here today, after a day of complete contrast yesterday with long awaited snowfall! It was a gorgeous sight, with every branch of every tree coated in no time.. will post some photos later. Dick got some guddling in yesterday too…  Need to rush off now… we’re off up to see the venue at Juniata College and get some rehearsal time in. Back to work…

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Pennsylvania!

Seems like ages since I posted anything here. The days have been whizzing past… We’ve now made it to the 4th of our 5 destinations – Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Chicago was full of so many great experiences, especially the sell out shows at the iconic Hideout Club so it was kinda sad to be moving on. Such a fantastic city, and for me one that perfectly captures beauty, serenity and city mayhem. But it was time to hit the road. We landed here Monday, to a contrasting landscape to Chicago but an equally beautiful one – rolling hills, wide open fields and classic American red farm barns speckled everywhere – like where Superman grew up, as Dick put it. We were met by our host Chad Herzog, the Director of Performing Arts at Juniata College, where our next show will be on Friday this week.

As in Chicago we arrived to unseasonal winter weather of blue sky sunshine, and no snow. We took a stroll over to Huntingdon for a look round – a gorgeous little town, and recently voted by Budget Travel Magazine as the 5th Coolest small town in America.

A fine feed and a few beers in the local diner rounded off a day of travel. Chad has been taking great care of us and has shown us some local sights these past couple of days including Raystown Lake, a beautiful 28 mile long man made lake – probably pinned with people in the summer but deserted this time of year so good chance for a stroll. Plenty of bears around apparently, but snoozing this time of year thankfully.

Then for a tour round Lincoln Caverns, a network of underground caves with gorgeous sparkling formations.

As I’d feared, there was a bat, but only one and he was asleep. Dick got his first Billy Connolly since we got to the States! A common occurence for him apparently in Scotland, Dick tells us his record is 20 in Glasgow, including a drive-by roar from a passing vehicle.

Thomas Fraser popped into my head when the guide was telling us the caves were discovered in 1931, the year he was diagnosed with polio, and the beginning of his 2 years confinement to bed. Not sure what he would have made of the being 30 feet underground. Good acoustics though so he might have been keen to get reel to reel down there for a few songs.

Got in another few local sights today, including lunch at Spruce Creek Tavern, famed for their ‘tray of fries’. Too much for Duncan to resist.. Och, well not quite… they were for us all. In usual ‘Lone Star Swing’ banter style, it was too good a opportunity of revenge for Dick to miss tho… (you’ll get the idea from the photos below). The Duncan & Dick Show could be a go-er…

Review!

Just found this link to what might be our first review here in the states from one of the Austin shows.

Have been flicking through more Austin pics today too… what an amazing city to kick off in! We flew up north yesterday and are now settled in at Purdue Uni, West Lafayette, Indiana. Huge Uni Campus so totally different feel to Austin. Shows Fri, Sat and Sunday. Bleedin’ FREEZING here – shock to the system after Austin.

 

Tommy Duncan Festival

A few months ago, Graham Simpson, drummer with Lone Star Swing band for 2009 tour (originally due to be on this tour but unfortunately not able to make it) was in touch via Facebook with a group of people organising the Tommy Duncan Tribute, in Hillsboro, Texas.

Tommy D is a legend of Western Swing, and was vocalist with Bob Wills (aka the King of Western Swing)… and sang hits such as…Stay a little longer. Tommy is the one sitting on the table singing in that clip – impossible to not love that sound! Bob Wills’ sound led to Duncan’s obsession with all things Texas a few years ago now, and eventually on to his Thomas Fraser obsession years later.  Anyway, back to the story…

Tommy’s family has started a festival in his name, to raise awareness of his huge contribution to Western Swing music and through Graham’s contact, Lone Star Swing were invited as special guests!

Fast forward to Fri 13th January… after arriving in Austin the previous night, we headed 2 hours drive north! Got to thinking on the way up that Tommy & Thomas kinda look alike. They were only 17 years apart in age – Tommy would’ve been 101 this year, and Thomas 84. Feels like they met indirectly that weekend when we told Tommy’s family about Thomas.

Duncan had arranged for us to meet the organisers in Whitney, Texas, Tommy’s birthplace. We were met in Whitney by Pam Townley, the organiser and a few others including Guich Koock – who was a great host to us – and Billy Mata – a Western Swing musician himself.

We followed them down a long, dusty 2 mile track to the house Tommy was born in. Amazing wood built, ‘Little House on the Prairie’ style. There we met Glynn Duncan, Tommy’s brother!

Duncan was keen to get as much chat with his as possible, as you can imagine. Check out those red boots!

Glynn is 90 but still sharp and told a great few stories. He sang with Bob Wills for a short while too. That tiny little house was home to a family of 14! Amazing introduction to Texas, and it’s people – they were all so friendly, and welcoming and keen to tell us all about the area and it’s musical history. I think Dick might’ve managed to transport himself back 100 years – he seemed to blend in with the house as if he’d always been there!

Later that night, we were invited for dinner at the house of Tommy & Glynn’s nephew. We felt so honoured to be invited in to the family. A great night of Texas food and hospitality! Little bit of a shock to be met by the stuffed bear, and the numerous deer and elk heads but they soon blended in just fine.

In true Texas tradition, all the men were dressed in cowboy style, with hats, boots and western shirts… and true polite (take their hat off to say hello to a lady!) cowboys too. And all of that was only just the beginning!

Festival took place the following day, Saturday – our second full day in the States! The ‘Chuckwagon breakfast’ to start the day was amazing! Everything cooked on the fire, by the wagon… bliss.

We were interviewed for local radio then spent the rest of the day listening to the best Western Swing I’ve ever heard… with lots of people on the floor, Texas Two-Stepping!!

We sneaked out to meet Dave Alexander and to visit his tour bus. Could definitely cope with a life on the road in one of those.

The whole experience of that first weekend was just way beyond my best expectations of Texas. Really nice people, amazing music and a nostalgic feel of times past. One thing that I couldn’t help notice was a missing age group of 20-40 year olds. There were only two (really cute) young people there – two young cowboys who were like miniature versions of the older men in the community. They were having a great time though, and seeing them with their families reminded me Shetland and Orkney where music and that old sense of nostalgia are still linked. Texas feels like home! Sure Thomas would have thought so too!

 

Adios Austin…

Sunday, and a day of rest in Austin. Much needed after a hectic few days. Great day yesterday – standing ovation for the afternoon show! Amazing. These are my first few shows so I was kinda relieved to get them out of the way. I’m replacing Fiona Driver, fiddle player who did the last tour with Long Gone Lonesome – a hard act to follow!

Was great last night to get a chance to sit down with everyone who’s worked so hard this week to make everything run seamlessly! James Gardner‘s here with us as Production Manager, and Stevie Jones on Sound – both brilliant to work with, and doing an amazing job. The techie/venue team from Bass Concert Hall have been amazing too – thanks y’all! Few beers and a taste of whisky combined with a little backstage tune was a great way to round off the Austin shows. Managed to persuade everybody to pose for a pic!

L-R Back - James (NTS), Kirsten (Austin), Iain (LSS), Dick (LSS), Neil (NTS), Stevie (NTS), May (Thomas' daughter), Alexis (Karl's partner), Karl (Thomas' grandson). L-R Front - Jeremy (Austin), Michael (NY), Duncan (LSS), Lynda (LSS), Ben (Austin), Cynthia (Austin), Mackie (May's husband) & Emma (NTS).

Great to have some of Thomas’ family there – makes the whole story feel even more real when people who knew Thomas are there in the crowd. Austin itself has been a great city to experience.

Cedar Fever and Sell Out Shows

Day 3 in Austin! Two sell out shows so far – both well received!

We’ve recreated a village hall in Scotland on the huge stage of Austin’s Bass Theatre. As in Orkney or Shetland, the show is followed by a raffle and dance! In true Texas style, the crowd stuck around and took to the dance floor! Amazing to see the cowboy hats birling around the floor. They were even up for a strip the willow, expertly led by our Director, here with us on the tour, Emma Callander and NTS Executive Producer Neil Murray who has been around for the start of the tour. The Texans did a great job! Great to have six Shetlanders there last night too, including May, Thomas’ daughter and Karl, his grandson.

Opening show on Thursday was a tough one for Duncan, who all but lost his voice to cedar fever – a common allergic reaction round these parts at this time of year. Trip to the doctor yesterday sorted him out and he was back in full voice last night.

Two more shows here in Austin today, day off tomorrow, then we head for Indiana on Monday. Austin has been an amazing experience – renowned for it’s live music scene, Duncan’s recommendation for gigs and venues is never-ending, in true music fanatic style and he’s been rushing round to as many as he can squeeze in, from the Broken Spoke, to the White Horse and the Continental Club. Iain has been keeping up with Duncan, but Dick and I took the more leisurely option of the hotel bar last night, where we bumped into some of Thomas’ family so a good chance to have a catch up with them. It’s great they’re over here.

Still tales to tell of our trips during our first week in the US before the start of the tour – to Hillsboro, Texas as special guests at the Tommy Duncan festival, and to Nashville, to introduce the guys to the best in honky tonkin’… including Dick’s spectacular Nashville debut, at Rippy’s, Lower Broadway! If I can just figure out how to get the video uploaded I’ll get it up here. In the meantime, here are some shots from the Bass Hall. Time to get the dress on and get downstairs! Bye for now, Lynda.

Austin stage! Preparing for Opening night...

Taking Thomas Fraser ‘home’

We’ve made it through our first two shows to kick off the tour, here in Austin, Texas. The Austin audiences have been fantastic – even up for dancing an Orcadian Strip the Willow!

Six Shetlanders were there tonight, amongst them May (Thomas’ daughter) and Karl (his grandson). It was brilliant to see them there, and for them to be sharing in the experience of what really does feel like taking Thomas Fraser ‘home’ to his musical roots.

For some background in case you’re not familiar with the show… we (the Lone Star Swing Band, aka Duncan McLean, Iain Tait, Dick Levens and me – Lynda Anderson) are here in the USA touring Long Gone Lonesome, a National Theatre of Scotland production about the life of Shetlander Thomas Fraser.

Thomas was a crofter and fisherman in the remote Shetland Islands, who fell in love with the country music of America… the songs of Carl Smith and Jimmie Rodgers amongst others. Not only did he listen to the music obsessively, he learned to play guitar and sing the songs to a standard to rival the original artists.

Although known as a talent in the local community during his lifetime, his extreme shyness limited his public performances and it was really only 20 years after his death that the true wealth of his talents were discovered, when his grandson, Karl Simpson, listened through old reel to reel recordings Thomas had left – no less than 1000 tracks!

Karl got to work preserving the tapes, and to date has released 6 CDs of Thomas’ music to worldwide acclaim. Duncan was gripped by the music and story of Thomas’ life and the play is a combination of that story together with some of the songs Thomas loved so much. Although he was never in America, I really do feel like he’s travelling with us to his musical ‘home’. Just wish he could be here to see it for himself.

Opening Night!

Hello from the Lone Star Swing Band – at last! Hard to believe we’ve actually been in the US for a week! We arrived last Thursday, and have since had a wild and wonderful week of exploration and adventure – in Texas and Tennessee! More stories and photos of those trips to follow soon… Just to say hello for now since we haven’t had the time to yet! Busy times today too, in preparation for our US premiere!! tonight at 8pm at Austin’s Bass Concert Hall. Exciting!!! We just finished the dress rehearsal and are raring to go! Right, no more time to write just now… time to go eat, prepare and dress for the show!