A SOULFUL JOURNEY IN SEVERAL PARTS: PANAMA TOURS NEW ENGLAND
Nashville TN, July 17th, 2003 - - Bradford, Vermont, is a small
town on the border of New Hampshire near Dartmouth College. The
Volvo and I pulled in on the morning of June 21.
Though it was a Saturday
the street was occupied by very few people. All the scene required
to be right out of High Plains Drifter was an old yellow dog lazily
crossing the road. Maybe I was looking the other way.
The only things open
seemed to be the grocery store/deli, a clothing
store with the best flannel collection I have ever seen, a bookstore
the public library, which is situated in an old building complete
round tower. I had by this time grown accustomed to the prevalence
buildings so old they seem to have sunk into their surroundings
Vermont. Upon finding out that there was nowhere to get a drink
early in the day, I sauntered over to the library to check my email,
which there was blessed little. Maybe I didn't saunter. Maybe I
walked. Anyway there was not much happening in cyberspace. So I
returned to the deli, bought a ham and cheese sandwich and a Gatorade
and asked for directions to Middle Earth, where I would be performing
Turned out that Middle
Earth was right around the corner from the
bookstore. I went and tried the door. Nope. There was encouragement,
however, in the form of a poster announcing my performance this
I returned to the grocery, and because my cell was inoperative in
hills and/or latitude, I borrowed their phone and put in a call
Jones, the proprietor of Middle Earth. Got a message. Since he couldn't
call me on the cell and since I didn't want to wait around for a
til four o'clock when the spaghetti joint next door opened for business,
I looked at the map and rapidly discerned that Sunapee, NH, home
Aerosmith and my friend the artist Sebastian Houseman, was not all
far away. The Volvo and I set out for Sunapee.
I arrived an hour later
in Sunapee, and after a couple of false starts,
Sebastian and I finally connected.
American artist, is the progeny of the famously
dignified actor John Houseman ("We get our money the old-fashioned
way: we STEAL it..." says a framed New Yorker cartoon of the
old gentleman hanging on Seb's wall). I first met Sebastian when
he was a snot-nosed kid of seventeen in Coconut Grove, Florida.
Now he's a snot-nosed kid of fifty living in Sunapee, married to
a marvelous pastry chef and cook and exquisite intellect and all-around
good ole girl named Margaret. For a while he was part of the road
crew for The Legendary Panama Red with Montezuma's Revenge back
in the day when I toured with a band. He is also godfather to my
daughter, Megan. I had been planning to stop over for a few days
with Margaret and Sebastian ever since the New England tour had
taken form. They reside in an old farmhouse built somewhere around
1750. I got the Benedict Arnold Room.
As it was now verging
on six pm, and as my gig was to start at nine,
Sebastian agreed to accompany me back up the highway to Bradford
and Middle Earth. Along the way we chatted about my upcoming tour
of France, beautiful young girls we had loved back in the Grove
salad days and whatever became of them (most of them, but sadly,
not all... survived to become beautiful old grannies), and Art and
Music and other intangible and evanescent Things That Start With
Capital Letters, just as we have always done throughout the course
of our friendship. We arrived back in Bradford about seven.
Middle Earth is a folksinger's
dream come true. Located in the basement
of an old (of course) building just down from the dam and just up
the river, it features a marvelous sound system, ably manned tonight
Ren Millican and his faithful sound dog Chance, and a homey stage
decorated with a moosehead that turned out to be made entirely of
There is a kitchen that cranks out killer sandwiches, I chose the
beef, and a worldwide selection of hoppish quaffs. I had Amstel,
This outpost of culture in the Vermont backwoods is owned and operated
by Chris Jones and his partner Sue Monica, "the brains of this
Chris has been producing events here in Bradford for a number of
either in venues too small for the audience or too large for the
For a while he promoted concerts in the Bradford town hall, "until
fire marshall decided we were having too good a time. He was probably
originally from New Hampshire, the sonsabitches".
Chris finally solved the problem by going whole-hog and acquiring
refurbishing Middle Earth, which is of an appropriate middling capacity.
To give some idea of the importance of this venue, here is just
list of acts who have appeared at Middle Earth since its opening
2002: Norman Blake, Richie Havens, Janis Ian, Duke Robillard, Aztec
Two Step, Tom Rush, Jonathan Edwards, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Eric Andersen,
Sadly, tonight he could
have used a smaller space, as about eight people
turned out to see the RedMan. Still, Chris and I soldiered through
evening, he absorbing his losses and I absorbing the bruises to
Okay, there weren't
many folks there, but the ones who were are quality
people, let me tell you. One thing about small audiences: by the
the evening, we were old friends. Guests included Eric Vogel, a
professor from Dartmouth, no doubt there to hear that fine and sensitive
Kinky Friedman/Panama Red ballad "Homo Erectus". There
was also a fine blonde babe, but she was fiercely guarded by her
After the stage lights
were out, and our close personal friends the
audience had gone home with CDs and T-shirts, Chris and I talked
amicably for awhile, but then we caved in to the inevitable and
said goodbye until next April, when Dartmouth will be back in session
and I can reasonably be expected to be a better draw, and Sebastian
and I pointed the Volvo east back toward New Hampshire. Thank you,
Bradford, and Middle Earth...and Chris Jones.
Throughout New Hampshire,
on license plates and state road signs, the
same icon continually turns up: "The Old Man of the Mountain".
Man was a rock formation, a cliff face visible for miles and inherent
the lore of New Hampshiremen since way before the American Revolution.
It was venerated in the hearts of those who "Live, Freeze and
Die" since time immemorial as, among other things, a symbol
of what makes New Hampshiremen different from oh, say, Vermonters.
But a few months ago
something happened to the Old Man that caused a
great sadness throughout the state. The Old Man fell. Tumbled from
perch leaving a new, and not very picturesque, cliff face in his
Dire predictions had abounded for countless years, guy cables had
attached, all to prevent what is, after all, a force of Nature,
gravity, but to no avail. The Old Man gently slipped his moorings
day and crashed to the forest below. As I say, it was a tragic event,
and New Hampshire continues to mourn.
Back in the Benedict
Arnold Room the next morning after the Middle Earth gig, I awoke
to birdsongs and a bright new day. Sebastian had recently had his
silted-up old pond dug out, and was in the process of landscaping
the verge around the recently-expanded and deepened hole. I had
offered to help, especially as this would give me the excuse to
play with one of his garden tractors.
So after a petit dejeuner
and some lung exercises which left me in a
lighter frame of mind, I donned my old sneaks and shorts and joined
Farmer Seb out in the yard. "Ah, the Artiste stirs. Here, put
on," Sebastian said, handing me a new pair of cowhide gloves.
We raked and shoveled
and hauled and hauled and shoveled and raked all that morning. Finally
I had to ask: "Hey, Seb, what's this sneering semi-contempt
that New Hampshiremen and Vermonters seem to have for each other?"
"Well, mostly it's a put-on, but New Hampshire thinks Vermont
is a bunch of fairies, and Vermont thinks New Hampshire is a bunch
of uptight country assholes. But like I say, it's mostly a put-on
attitude...each state actually feels a lot more contempt for the
other forty-eight than for each other. Well, maybe not Maine. Maine's
"They'll be relieved to hear that in Maine, I'm sure,"
"Nah. Mainers don't give a shit what anybody thinks one way
or the other."
"So New Hampshire thinks Vermonters are fairies?"
"Surely you noticed the preponderance of lesbians in Burlington,
Actually I hadn't, but that would explain the vast selection of
had seen at the store in Bradford.
I spent four totally
wonderful days in the warm atmosphere of Margaret
and Sebastian's company All that time we shoveled and hauled and
raked, etc. I have never felt so welcome or so at ease. Margaret
is so easygoing as to permit me to call her by variations of her
given name, Marge, Margo, Marzhay, Peggums, every permutation I
could think of, something Seb says is rare in her. She is a patient
wonder. And, as I say, a marvelous cook.
Our last evening together
we had "lob-stah". So much lob-stah that we
couldn't finish, and sat around the table, our bellies stuffed,
sadly at the two we hadn't been able to get to.
Next morning, Thursday,
June 26, I set out once again to my final gig:
The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT.
NEXT: PANAMA PLAYS THE BUTTONWOOD, VISITS WITH FAMILY IN CONNECTICUT,
WEST VIRGINIA AND KENTUCKY AND COMES HOME