- Essays: On The Road (And A Little Off)

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Panama Does Up the 2002 Americana Convention

Nashville, TN, Sept 12, 13, 14, 2002
This saga began when my good friend Deborah Orazi,
eagle-eyed, golden-eared ace music reporter for the
Sarasota Herald Tribune, asked me if I wanted to be her
official photographer for the 2002 Americana Music
Association Conference here this week in Gnashville.
This would, she said, thus qualify me for press credentials,
avoid messy entanglements and get me into all kinds of
events from which I otherwise might be excluded.

"Sure," I said, "I'll bring my Instamatic."

I go out and buy a trout-fishing vest so I'll look
like those guys on CNN.


When I check in at the Hilton, ordinarily a place I
can't enter without attracting unfriendly security, to get
my credentials, the reception babe, the only volunteer at
the whole affair who will recognize me, and much to the
delight of my boosted ego, starts thumbing through the
"P" section, then the "R" before I can give her my name.
"Uh, I'm here under my alias. Try 'Finley, Sarasota
Herald Tribune', I say, striking a square-jawed,
intrepid journalist pose.

"Oh, here it is. Golly, Panama, I didn't know you were a
"I is a Pho-to-journalist, please," I reply, picking
up my laminate and my bag of free samples of other
peoples' CD's.

In the atrium I immediately encounter my Amsterdam
Americana buddies, over here for the event. Alex Tobin,
now heading up Americana-Europe.com, Louis Jay Meyers of
SXSW and A2A fame, and notable Gourds producer Texas
Mike Stewart. The stately silver Volvo is double-parked
out front, however, so I gotta go.

Later in the night I set out again. I-24 into town.
There are three venues this night, the Station Inn, the
Slow (or Slo) Bar and 12th and Porter. I hit 'em all,
finding nothing new or old...an endless cruise the high
point of which was encountering Mike Stewart navigating
his way a few sheets to the wind back down Broadway to
the Hilton. "Get in, man," I say.
"Nah, man, I gotta get to bed. But you might wanna
watch that truck in front of you. He don't seem to be
able to find the clutch."

I cruise 12th and Porter again. I run into my ostensible
journalistic leader, the Debster herself. We hang out.
I drink. Then we set out to the Station Inn, a
notorious bluegrass hangout here in The Vile. I get my
heartstrings tugged for the hills of home for awhile,
then I say goodnight to Deborah and drink up and head
home to the Phoenix.

Next evening, Friday, is the central event of the whole
shebang, really, the presentation of the 2002 Americana
Music Association Awards. So 6:30 finds me at the
Hilton guzzling complimentary Shiner bock beer. It
ain't Laphroaig or even Lagavullin, but it ain't bad for
free American beer. I am sitting on the third-floor
terrace where I can keep an eye on the Volvo, parked
illegally on the soon-to-be site of the Gnashville
Symphony Hall. There are quite a few thousand-dollar
hats here this evening. I see a Tom Mix number that is
to die for.

As I say, the real reason I am slumming here at the
Awards tonight is to see my friend Shaver present, and,
it is rumored, receive an award. These conventions are
usually pay-to-play showcase affairs, with only a few
getting fees to lend their names and thereby some credence
to the event. And Shaver rightfully so. Along with
Townes, Guy Clark, David Olney, Steve Earle and just maybe
a couple of lesser lights, Billy Joe midwifed the baby we
call Americana. I was in the room, or at least the room
next door, at the time the baby was being born, and so I

Deborah has promised to save me a seat inside the
banquet room at her table, and, as it turns out, it is
the best seat in the house. I am sitting down front
stage right, where I can see everthang. The PA was a
little heavy in the 800h range, so the footsteps boomed
a bit. Or maybe it was simply the walking of giants
across the stage.

Because of 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' the Americana
scene this year has taken a decidedly bluegrass turn. So
much so that I am thinking of starting a bluegrass band of
oldsters called the Saggy Bottom Boys.
But I have to abandon my usual drolly cynical attitude
here and say that, as far as I'm concerned, all the
right people were nominated and all the right people
The Awards are in the form of a Gibson guitar headstock
complete with strings and tuners, mounted on a
horizontal piece of Nice Wood. Billy Joe won the
songwriters' Lifetime Achievement Award. The only
person surprised was, of course, Billy Joe. Receiving
his award, the first thing Shaver had to say is typical
Shaver: "It would be nicer if they gave you the whole

photo credit: Deborah Orazi

I first met Johnny Cash at the House of Cash studios
when I got the chance to play on Billy Joe's first
record. I was standing on a step leading down to the
orchestra pit, and I was still looking UP at him. And,
though years have gone by and I've gotten a little
taller, I guess(cause he could never get shorter), he is
still an imposing presence. Johnny Cash received the
Spirit of Americana Award presented by the First
Amendment Center, for...well, for everything about which
Cash has spoken up forever. And that's a lot of stuff.
I will not confess to tears. I will just move on.
Years ago, the Texas Jewboys played a gig at Hofheinz
Pavilion in Houston. It was a kinda Texas Music Fest
thang. Appearing there also was, among other notables,
Sir Douglas Sahm. Later that day or next I flew back to
Austin on the same plane with Doug. And for some
reason, two great banties meet or something, we nearly
came to blows. Had to be separated by a couple of anorexic
stewardesses. The President's Award, presented
posthumously to those who have moved on too soon to get
their just recognition on this particular flight, was
presented to Doug Sahm Friday night, for his vast
contributions to what we are now I guess all calling
Americana. Chet Flippo, the dean of American Music
journalism, accepted. I concur.
Shaver presented the Song of the Year Award to Jim
Lauderdale for his tune "She's Lookin at Me," from his
collaborative album with Ralph Stanley and the Clinch
Mountain Boys.

There was a lot of music, mostly as I say, bluegrass,
between presentations. It was wonderful. The evening
ended with a finale by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash,
rendering a Lonzo and Oscaresque version of

It was a grand night.
Later, I am sittin on a couch at Douglas Corner, a non-AMA
venue this year, waitin to hear David Olney. I've just
returned from a walk with Louis Jay Meyers, a good picker,
and that's all that needs to be said. I like the guy. I
tell him my Volvo story. We share an Amsterdam moment.

I have earlier arrived twice, once to drop Mike Stewart
here, and again after taking my Dutch friend Bas to the
Basement, where they do not permit you to smoke. Bas is a
Dutch music maven entrepreneur looking for talent to book
here at the Fest. Alex Tobin and I have returned here to
wherever it is I am to hear Dave.

I have known David Olney for 30 years, since the old days
before we had won our spurs on the hard steets of Music
Row. I am always overjoyed to see him again, because I
can rely on some quirky take on the working musician's
life to pass from his lips. Let me be the next guy in a
long string to tell you that Olney has the real shit and
presents it uncompromisingly. If you haven't heard his
work, you owe it to yourself to do so, because I wouldn't
lie about this stuff. He is, quite simply, the best at
what he does. Buy his records.

What we talk about tonight is getting older. Dave says
for a while he wondered about maybe fudging his age
downward. Finally, he says, he just started revising his
age upward. "Now," he says, "I just tell 'em I'm 68, and
people say, "wow, that old guy looks good for his age.
He's gotta be cool." That makes me about 71, as I am
three years older than Olney.

I stick for most of Dave's set, then drink up an go home.


Next day, I am pretty much Americana'd out. I take some
time to go visit my old friend Phil Larson, whom I've
known since the coffeehouse days at Beaux Arts in Pinellas
Park Florida. That's thirty-five years. Phil is in town
for the Americana thang, being a shill for the Waybacks,
Kathy Chiavola, and the three surviving members of
Bethlehem Asylum: myself, Charlie Dechant, and Buddy Helm.
Phil is a font of memories of the old days and of old
friends long since disappeared.

I had the opportunity to go see Billy Joe at the Belcourt
tonight, but he doesn't need me there, and I am, as I say,
whupped. Besides, I know his tunes. Very well.

I come back to the Phoenix, and as I'm lying in bed with
Patty I am overcome with love for and gratitude to her for
continuing to endure.

"Goodnight, Patty. You're a good little woman," I say.

"Thank you, Papa. You're a good little woman yourself,"
she replies,

We go to sleep.