Travels

It’s been a long week with lots of traveling.

On Monday Chris and I drove to Abingdon, Virginia, to play backup for our friend Ron Short. Our portion of the program program was a 45-minute version of the set of coal mining songs we’ve been helping him with lately. This show was a special treat for us because it was held at the Barter Theater, an elegant spot with great sound that seats around 500 people. The theater was maybe three-quarters full, and it is always a pleasure to play for a crowd which has nothing else to do but pay attention to you. As long as they like you, anyway. They seemed to like us.

The show ended a bit too late for us to drive home, so we stayed in Bristol and headed home the next morning, arriving at 11am, which gave me just enough time to eat lunch, attend to a few bookkeeping details, repack my suitcase, and get back in the car, this time to drive with Matthew to Nashville, where we were planning to spend our annual father-son excursion.

There is no overarching purpose to these excursions except to have a pleasant couple of days in one another’s company, and Nashville was a reasonably close city with a zoo and a science museum and some good places to eat. You wouldn’t think so to look at him, but Matthew enjoys his food at least as much as I do, and so meals were an important part of the entertainment. We chose so well that we could only get to four of the six meals we had planned, being forced to skip lunches just so we would survive the breakfasts and suppers.

One of the highlights of the trip for both of us was going to see the latest Pixar movie, Ratatouille. I’ve always been a fan of all kinds of animation, and was astonished along with the rest of the world when I first saw Toy Story—not just because of the technical accomplishment, but because it was rich and deep and almost flawless in its execution. Well, I thought Ratatouille was as much a leap forward as Toy Story. The textures were astonishing, almost tactile—believable water dripping from believable fur, and so on. Camera angles and movements were imaginative. Some of the small touches almost knocked me over; in one scene, shot over the shoulder of a young man talking to a rat in a jar, making the rat a very small figure in the frame, the action hinges on the rat nodding slightly in response to a question—and you half-notice the nod more or less as the boy would have done. The story was not as tightly constructed as Toy Story, but it made up for it in sheer novelty—a rat who yearns to cook in a fine French restaurant?—and although it fell apart at the very end, the last fifteen or so minutes built to a climax in a brave and surprising and just plain delightful way.

Matthew and I made it home in time for supper Thursday night. On Friday Chris and I were back in the car again, headed for Ferrum College outside Roanoke, Virginia to back up Ron Short again at a couple of performances. The show was on Saturday but the drive was too long to make it a day trip, so we arrived Friday night, having set aside enough time for a short visit with friends along the way. The festival was quite impressive, focusing on crafts and culture of the Blue Ridge, but as usual we were disappointed to find that when you are playing at a festival there isn’t really enough time left over to enjoy it for itself. We played from 11am to noon, and then again from 3pm to 4pm, and after visiting with folks we had to content ourselves with sitting on a hillside on a wonderfully cool and sunny afternoon, watching a coon dog swimming contest while eating an excellent chicken dinner prepared by the local holiness church. We were on the road again by 5pm, home shortly after midnight, the drive made possible by a stop in Bristol for a very large, very caffeinated cup of Starbucks coffee.

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