All work and no play…

…is not what this tour is about.

After a very hectic and exhausting (though rewarding) week in Chicago it’s been great to get a couple of days off in Huntingdon in beautiful west Pennsylvania.

I should come clean and admit that it’s really the band who have been having the time off: James (stage management and lights) Stevie (sound) and Emma (staff director) have been disappearing to the venue and/or their hotel rooms to do WORK every day.

Except on Tuesday, we, with the aid of our generous and hospitable local presenter Chad Herzog, managed to prise Stevie and Emma out for a few hours sightseeing. (James remained attached to his laptop as firmly as a Scapa Flow limpet to a rock.) Chad took us down some caverns, and up some mountains. But the highlight of the afternoon was a company game of volleyball (the college’s speciality) overlooking Raystown Lake.

Impressive, huh? Sport and mime in one brief YouTube clip!

Thursday evening, after some tech and rehearsal in the afternoon, we persuaded an excellent local cafe, the Standing Stone Coffee Company, to let us set up and play a few songs and tunes. It was great to be in front of an audience again after the break, especially doing a completely relaxed musical set – no need to remember scripts and lighting cues, just heads-down, no-nonsense northern swing for 45 minutes.

Well, I say no nonsense…at one point Dick did attempt to walk out the door during an electric mandolin solo, aiming to perform for the audience while looking in through the plate glass windows at them. Unfortunately his lead was too short, so before he could even stumble past the mic stand he unplugged himself and fell silent. Unlike the audience, who guffawed and applauded this tour de force of musical professionalism: ‘Slick, Vegas-style showbiz,’ as Cornell Hurd likes to say.

Luckily, Linda was on hand to wow the cafe with her swinging fiddle…

All in all, a good warm up for this evening, which will have us performing Long Gone Lonesome to its biggest ever audience, in a 600 seater auditorium at Juniata College. Speaking of which, I must stop now and head off for our tech check and dress rehearsal.

Duncan

A tale of two hats

Sunday, our last day in Austin, was also a day off, so Iain and I took off into the country south-east of Austin with some new friends we’d met through the theatre: Eunice and Morgann (both grad students at UT) and Joel Gammage, fourth generation hat maker at Texas Hatters in Lockhart. (www.texashatters.com)

Up till now, Lockhart has always meant BARBECUE to me, and we did indeed start our visit with some fantastic brisket and sausage at Smitty’s (which I lasted visited about 15 years ago, when it was still – before a family split – called Kreuz Market.)

Then we went a couple of blocks along the dusty road to Joel’s shop and workshop, an amazing, Dickensian place stuffed with hundreds of hats of all shapes and sizes (many, but not all, what we would call cowboy hats), as well as steamers, gluers, sewing machines, wooden hat moulds (many over 200 years old, Joel said), big squares of different felts (South American beaver being most prized, and New Zealand hare next best) – and hundreds of photos of celebrities wearing Texas Hatter hats. Everyone from Willie Nelson to Prince Charles to Guich Cooke to Stevie Ray Vaughan to ZZ Top to Jerry Jeff Walker to George Bush has had their head measured here.

Well, I don’t know if Iain and I will end up with our photos on the wall of fame, but we certainly ended up with Texas Hatter hats on our heads. The wind in Orkney makes wide-brimmed cowboy hats unwearable (they keep blowing away) but these fedoras looked both snazzy and practical to us. Joel decorated them for us, stamped our names on the leather liner and hand stitched that into place, then sized them to the perfect fit with stem and a ingenious wooden stretcher.

We decided against the coon skin hats…though the picture does remind me of that funny pic of Thomas with a cat balanced on his shoulder.

Apparently Stevie Ray Vaughan bought his first hat from tips earned busking on the very shoe-shine stand Iain and I sat on to sing Crazy Arms. Our tips were few, I’m afraid, but the joy of wearing these hand-customised hats was – and is – plentiful.