Will You Return: Or, How One of My Favorite Bands Ended Up Playing in My Backyard

Avett Brothers

Much like politics and religion, I tend to avoid talking about my musical tastes in any kind of public forum.

It’s not that I’m in any way uncomfortable with what I like or where my tastes lie, but inevitably other people tend to pick your pleasures apart. It’s a fact of life; even though I’m of an age where I can respect you for your personal affections, even I’m still silently judging you for thinking the Dave Matthews Band are still cool.

That being said, writing about one’s taste in music is an even harder endeavor. More often than not it’s a personal thing, a hard feeling to pin down and really hammer out into words. Sure, some tunes are indelibly catchy; but for some one song that they find grating can be a life affirming jingle to another. Regardless of the challenge, I can’t in good conscious have gone to an Avett Brothers concert and not talk about it at least a little bit.

I guess, in a nutshell, they are a bluegrass, country and folk inspired group that is as infectious as a pop convocation with the energy level of a punk band. There’s something very earnest and heartfelt about their songs, whether they’re singing about the curiosities behind nostalgic trinkets in “Yardsale” or what would happen should they die in “Murder in the City.” Unlike a lot of the fluff on the radio, their songs almost feel like self-contained stories, the type of ditty that sticks in your mind not just because they settle well in your ears but because they are so lyrically verbose.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that their song “Live and Die” came out at a pivotal time in my life. I can’t listen to it without thinking of my youngest son Harry, whom we lost to circumstances out of our control. Although we tried to have an acoustic version that I heard on NPR played at his service it never panned out, but the impact was all the same.

From the moment I inadvertently stumbled upon “Kick Drum Heart” on Pandora I’ve been hooked on their addictive music since.

Seeing them live has always been a dream since, but I figured the only chance I’d get to see them is if I traveled to Red Rocks or the Twin Cities on the off chance I was able to pick up their usually sold out tickets. Not an impossibility by any means, but an unlikely scenario if I’m being honest. When I saw they were playing in Deadwood, I almost took a double take. Then when I realized it wasn’t some kind of joke, I hopped on Pop to get me some tickets, post haste.

To make a short story long, the show itself was amazing. There wasn’t just an energy in the crowd, but the band itself fed off of it as well. I’m not sure what they were expecting from a stop-over town on a Sunday night, but the place was packed. I’m sure it was a more intimate show than they’d normally play, but that’s probably why it was so engaging. They looked like they were having as much fun on stage as we were in the crowd. I even danced a bit, sang along and smiled the whole while. If you know me in any capacity (and the odds are good you do because you’re reading this), this probably comes as a surprise. Hey, even I have to break the wall down sometime.

Even at a little over two hours, it just didn’t seem long enough. They did it right, though: they played the hits, some deep cuts, a little bit of an acoustic set and of course an encore. Which turned out to be well worth it, because the tone of the crowd was nearly deafening as the chanted. The highlight of my night was oddly never at the actual show but waiting in line at the merch booth, where I saw a twelve or thirteen-year-old boy buying what I’m guessing was his first CD, with a smile on his face that could only belay that he had just entered into the gateway of how wonderful music can be.

At one point Seth Avett came up to the microphone and stated that in fourteen years of touring they had never been to South Dakota, but he was gonna make sure it wasn’t another fourteen before they came back.

I hope he’s right.

At the Beach

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There are two types of people in the world: those who think that beaches are only for ocean dwellers and those of us who know better.

Really, you can’t fault people who by chance are lucky enough to see an endless expanse of sea courtesy of living on the continental edge that shores upon it. But for my money (or lack thereof, as I’ve never been to the ocean) if it has sand and it happens to be by a body of water, salt or otherwise, it’s a beach. And when it’s ninety-plus degrees outside and the sun is beating down on you with an unrequited fury – you go to the beach.

Our favorite beach here in the literal Midwest of this fine country is a scrappy little lake off Highway 385 called Roubaix. I can remember going camping with my grandparents and cousins there and using it as an excuse to exercise the use of my freshly-minted drivers license as a teenager and go swimming with my brothers on more than one occasion. Even though it’s fairly easy to get to from any of three directions, it always feels like this little secret spot that only a select few know about.

At least, until we actually showed up and it was jam-packed with fly fishers, inner-tubers and sand castle builders.

Not to be deterred by the glut of other agua seekers, we set up camp along a wall made of old railroad ties and made the best of it. After lightly bathing in sunscreen, as a family we timidly tip-toed into the cool, cool water.

It must be known that, even though we’ve all jumped into lakes on a regular basis throughout childhood, getting used to the water always seems like a chore. First there’s the chill up the spine. Then, the goose bumps. The toughest part may be the nether region which, for gentlemen at least, puts us back at step one. Finally there’s that moment where you say screw it and just dive in. You mileage with each step may vary, but no matter what your approach you’re guaranteed to yelp as you resurface if not with a chill than at least with the exhilaration that it’s over and you can just enjoy the damn water.

Everybody kind of took off to do their own thing, as my family is wont to do. Tucker decided he was going to tap into his inner Frank Lloyd Wright and build the most epic of sandcastles. Owen wanted to toss a water Frisbee in the hopes of catching it in mid-air not unlike an eager dog. And Breckin did what Breckin does — find catharsis in the simplest things; in this case splashing me when I wasn’t looking. As long as he’s using his fists for something joyously engaging rather than to pommel his brothers, I wasn’t going to stop him.

After a while my father-in-law Joel showed up, which meant one thing – it was time to kayak.

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He’s been doing it for years, and while everyone else has given it a go or two, I had yet to paddle out. All week Breckin had been bugging me to go out with him, which is a good thing because the last time anyone tried to get him on a boat he wailed like a banshee in fear. Before that I had to figure it out for myself, lest we both dump ourselves in and I’m forced to learn how to swim myself and a small child out of the middle of a lake.

Looking for a little direction, Joel pushed me in to the body of water and gave me a few pointers before taking off like someone who has done it a time or twenty. While it took me a little bit to consistently stay steady, I’m happy to announce it felt very intuitive. Soon enough I was figuring out at which angle I needed to dip the paddle in to either turn or get some good speed and instead focused on enjoying the ride. I’d often stop for a moment to enjoy the view of the hills, watch the people have fun on the coast and take in the din of birds and the splashing of fish.

Taking my kids out was an even grander experience. Like my hike with Owen, it was fun to peek into their minds when they aren’t verbally sparring for Carrie or my attention. Tucker, ever so inquisitive, asked a ton of questions. He was content sitting serenely until he saw Joel and Breckin approaching, at which we had to splash them. In all honesty, we ended up being the losers in almost every joust, but getting wet was the whole point to going to the lake.

Breckin on the other hand was his usual wild self. He was constantly splashing his hands into the water, keeping a lookout for fish or, at least for me, scarily rocking the boat back and forth in the hopes of tipping us over. Breckin also tends to be a question monger, only his often dipped into the absurd. Time is a concept he doesn’t understand, but he did figure out that I can’t be a grandparent until he becomes a parent, and that won’t happen for a really long time. At least, I hope he figured it out…

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After staying way longer than intended, eventually our arms were tired, our eyes filled with sweat and dripping sunscreen and our bellies empty. It was time to go. Without so much as a whisper, we piled into the van and followed Grandpa to the Sugar Shack for a celebratory burger before heading home and hitting the hay.

Sure, you can’t look for seashells by the sea shore or see whales in the distance, but I like to think our kind of beach has a certain allure to it too. If you don’t believe me, then I guess I’ll have to re-write this article next weekend when we’ll likely go back again.

 

In Search of Secret Tunnels

Owen @ Sheridan Lake

I’ve been trying to make it a point to do a lot more hiking this year. Sure, taking a walk around the block is a nice bit of exercise, but trekking through hill and dale cleanses the soul and stretches the imagination as much as it does your muscles.

Growing up in a ghost town like Rochford, surrounded by lush pine and spruce, one couldn’t help but climb the hills you were surrounded by. The view from the top was always worth the work it took to reach it. You could always take solace in the natural ambiance; the rustling leaves, the sound of rocks tumbling underneath your step, the occasional woodland creature skittering away at the realization they’d been found out.

I could have been in better shape back then to be sure, but I was far svelter than I am now. Living in the Black Hills, there isn’t a single sound excuse I could really give as to why I don’t hike often. Being busy isn’t good enough; I could find the time if I was willing to.

The day I found enough time happened to be today.

Granted my wife and two youngest sons are away on a trip east river, but under any other circumstance I probably would have buried my nose in a book or plunked my butt in the easy chair and whittled away a few hours playing video games. Instead I packed up my hesitant oldest son Owen and a few water bottles and drove up to Sheridan Lake.

Sheridan Lake

A few weeks ago we’d hiked the same trail with my parents and their dog as a way of celebrating Father’s Day. Between the lake trail head and where it meets the Spring Creek path is a pretty leisurely stroll as far as hikes go. It skirts the perimeter of the lake until it comes to a stop at the dam. Most people go across the dam to a destroyed outpost and bridge then summarily turn around. The family and I once tried to find a couple of tunnels my wife Carrie faintly remembered from her youth, but a steep flume (hence the name Flume Trail) kind of waylaid us and forced us to turn around.

Without young and inexperienced feet to scare us away, Owen and I decided to press on.

Flume Trail 10The Flume Trail stays fairly narrow and steep for a good chunk. The only exceptions were when we came across the man-made junctures from the early twentieth century. The footing was a bit rough in spots, but nothing a little patience couldn’t overcome. There were a couple of hairy moments when an older fellow with a dog decided to run past us. I’m not sure what kind of a circuit he was taking, but we ended up seeing him two more times after that. It was windy but undoubtedly cool.

It was one of those rare chances to talk with one of my kids’ mano-a-mano, something I also don’t do very often. It’s always an interesting exercise in that you discover a lot about your child when their and your mind space isn’t taken up by whatever it is we happen to be doing. Owen asked a lot of questions (as do my other two boys, as a general rule) and let loose that he was a little worried about high school and the timing of which he’ll get his driver’s license. He may have whined a little bit, but he pushed on like a trooper.

Flume Trail 15When we reached the fabled tunnel, we quickly found it was totally worth the work it was to get to it. I’d guess it stretches for about a hundred feet or so, just enough to look imposing because you could barely see through to the other side. We started with the flashlight on, but quickly turned it off because that’s way more fun. It was slightly flooded from all the rain and hail we’ve gotten lately, but the board pathway kept us from getting too wet. Once through to the other side we quickly decided that finding the other tunnel was a no-brainer.

Owen quickly learned a lesson about distance and the difference between the relativity of taking a straight path as opposed to a long and curvy one. As we exited the tunnel and looked down, you could see a stretch of Sheridan Lake Road that is notorious for having a really sharp corner to it. There’s even a mannequin named Biker Bob resting on a rusting motorbike forewarning you of impending doom if you take it too quickly. From that point all the way to the trail head is a good distance by car. Walking on the hill just above it took far less.

Flume Trail 28The second tunnel, by all counts, wasn’t as spectacular as the first. It only stretched maybe twelve feet, and felt more like a structure of efficiency than a cavern full of mystery. Even though in all honesty said cave of mystery was built for the same reason. It was a nice enough spot to rest though, as we sat down and nibbled on a granola bar and drank our water, surprisingly still filled with enough ice to keep it refreshing.

The walk back was just as beautiful a jaunt as the way in. Conversation now turned to how to survive a zombie apocalypse, which I’ve quickly learned is perhaps the biggest concern this side of finding a girlfriend for a 13-year-old boy. When he isn’t disregarding what I tell him, torturing his brothers or ignoring his chores, Owen can be a very insightful and intelligent kid. Once the kinks that come with puberty subside, I think he’s gonna do OK out in the real world.

As a reward for hiking a little under five miles, feeling better about ourselves and seeing something few will get to up close, we made a pit stop at the Miner Brewing Company and had a celebratory root beer (and picked up a growlette filled with yummy oatmeal stout for later.) The drive home was quiet; we were both thoroughly worn out, the drive felt a little longer than the way in and the shuffle on my iPod was kicking out some great tunes.

I could get used to this. I should get used to this. I need a little more adventure in my life; the type of thing that not just makes me feel good physically, but maybe a little bit emotionally and psychologically as well. We have a year pass to a lot of spots; I’m jonesing to go check them all out now. And I definitely want to come back and bring Carrie with just to check out that view again.

Hiking, I’m missed you so. Let’s not stay apart for so long next time.