Friday, October 12, 2007

Beer, Barns & Brown (Greg that is)

So I went from being deeply immersed in humid jungles, Thai food and Asian culture to folk music, golden aspens and pick-up trucks. And honestly if you were to ask me to pick a favorite theme, I really couldn't do it. Apples & Oranges my friends. But I must say that it truly does feel good to be home. Although when I called Woj up this morning and announced that he and I were going for a little 4-hour road trip to see Greg Brown play in a barn, I wasn't really thinking of the all out absolute Americana experience I was about to experience. But you know what, it's exactly what I needed. And luckily for me, I had a friend who was game for the journey.

We coffeed up, jumped in Woj's VW, and off we went. For those that have not experienced the pleasure of driving on Washington's highway 20, you are truly missing out on one of the most beautiful drives in our country...Seriously. SR-20 begins in Discovery Bay at route 101 and goes north to Port Townsend. It then takes a ferry (yup, according to Wikipedia, the road takes a ferry) into Island County. From Island County, the route continues into Skagit County, crosses the Cascade Mountains into Eastern Washington, and ends in Newport Washington near the Idaho border. It's a fairly long road, but we're focused on a sleepy little town located out in the Methow valley known as Winthrop. It's chock full of skiing, fishing, hiking, biking, camping and just great people. And getting there is half the fun.

Once I-5 is in your rear view and you plug a few miles onto the 20, the drive transforms itself from simply pleasant to maddeningly beautiful. Waterfalls carve their way down from unfathomably high cliffs, leaving moss to grow in their wake. Webby clouds cling to granite walls, promising snow and covering routes that I once only dreamt of. Brilliant autumn tones weave a tapestry of crimson and gold; it's like reading a living poem. It's prose most divine.
After about 2 hours, we near the top of the pass. A classic alpine climb in these parts called 'Liberty Bell' pokes it's head through the clouds. The peak lingers just long enough for us to pull over and take a few candid shots before disappearing behind it's cotton shroud. There's no doubt that we've made this drive at the most dramatic time of the year, and I feel so fortunate for having done so.
Continuing through hairpin turns, over rivers and down the pass we reach the flashing red light in the middle of a very western town. When I say 'western' I mean it's a wooded walkway, hand painted sign, deer rack above the saloon kind of place. Tastefully arranged, the town of Winthrop is a little Spaghetti Western mixed with a hint of Northern Exposure. Cars look very out of place and you can't help but mosey everywhere you go. This is the place to see your favorite folk singer play. We pull into an open space (easy to find now that tourist season has slowed to a trickle) and mosey (see, I told you) up to the Brew Pub. We order couple of bacon burgers and matched them with some pints of really tasty ale. Not even 15 minutes go by and two burgers covered in Gouda cheese & peppered bacon arrive. They were ridiculously good. It's been a great day and we haven't even been to the show yet.
Fast forward a couple more beers and a trip to the bakery and we find ourselves at the highly acclaimed Winthrop Barn. Now I have been looking forward to seeing Greg Brown play in this barn since last year when I saw him at, well here at Winthrop Barn. Leaning up against the red building and I'm listening to people to my right chat about their orchards and the problems that they are having with a horde of invading gophers. To my right a woman decides to share the coveted recipe of her peach cobbler with who I think is her new daughter in-law. I cock back my head, look up at the darkening autumn sky and just smile. Man, I can really see myself spending some (or all) of my time in this town. The doors open and we stroll in. I hand the smiling man my ticket at the door who says to me, "It's going to be good." I smile back and say, "No, It's going to be great." With that everyone chuckled in agreement and continued to file in.
Woj & I grabbed a seat 5 rows from front, and nearly dead center of the stage. Perfect distance for the lens that I had brought. The opening act, John Prime is a very close friend of Greg's and as well as in the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame. He walked on stage with a warm grin and an open heart. Dressed in a turquoise button down and wearing a black ball cap with blue flames. What he lacked in fashion sense, he more than made up for in talent. The man is the blues. He was sitting down, but his body just moved with all sorts of exaggerated motions that just seemed beyond his control. He was a man possessed by music. He knocked down the mic stand once, and had a few close calls shortly thereafter. He took it all in stride and just kept on playing. The man's got style.
Then, intermission time to grab another round. Standing on line, I let my eyes drift over the crowd. 250 people strong; most wrapped in wool or fleece. The occasional waft of patchouli fills my snout. Again I feel like I'm home. The man in front of me is greeted by first name and orders a beer for himself and a couple of locally baked cookies for his son. Two beers in hand, I take my seat, Greg takes the stage.
For those that are not familiar with Greg Brown, I'll do my best to describe. Or you can just click on one of his songs that are on the streaming music jukebox to your right. In fact, I encourage you to select one of his songs while you read this blog. Go ahead, I'll wait.......OK, ready? Good stuff, right? So Greg Brown is one of the most respected Folk singers of our time. His poems, stories & songs are sure to strike a chord with us all. His words, share the same values as Dylan. Born in the farmlands of Iowa, his style is Americana through & through and it carries a strong flavor of Springsteen's classic: Nebraska. But the magic, my friends is in his voice. Like a foghorn that barrels through rising storm clouds, Greg Brown's voice is just as real & powerful as it gets.
And I don't mean to rub this in the faces of our friends that missed this show. But guys, hands down the best Greg Brown show that I've seen to date. He even had a local fiddle player join him for a few songs! Sure the wonderful day may have swayed me to be a bit biased, but here's a few tunes that we heard:

Poet Game
Hey Baby, Hey
Spring Wind
Just by Myself
Mose Allison Played Here
Where is Maria
Oliy Boys
Down at the Mill

Sorry folks, you missed a good one.

So directly after the show, I proposed a shot a tequila and a pint for each of us at the local brew pub. I was hoping that there I would be able to talk to that girl that smelled like strawberries and patchouli. At this late hour, that was the only open bar in town. I figured that if there was going to be a mellow little after party of sorts in this sleepy little town, that's where it would be. But first we would go back to Brian & Kristen's place down the road (where we were crashing for the night) to see if our friends are still awake. We were invading their home on a weekday, after all...Sorry about that guys.

Luckily enough, they were up. We quickly scrapped the bar idea and decided to drink a few beers, catch up and swap a few stories with friends. The next day: coffee, breakfast, ping pong and cattle roping practice. (yup, cattle fun) Then, back on the road for a long, leisurely drive; stopping along the way for a few photos and some short hikes to more rewarding vistas. Have I mentioned how much I love this place?


  1. AFRICA. Hell yeah. Spring 2008--just to plan and see if I can do it!

  2. nice description. I very much imagine everything happening just how you say.
    there is no doubt that you threw a jab into my know what I mean.

    great to have you back

  3. I can't believe you gave up the opportunity to meet the girl that smelled like strawberries and patchouli just to have beers with Brian and I. I don't even want to know what we smelled like...puppies and ping pong?
    Anyway, great blog! Looking forward to reading the rest of the Liberty Ridge story and seeing more Thailand photos. Kristen