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Five years ago, how my road trip inspired me

posted Feb 15, 2016, 5:46 PM by Steve Sauer
Two weekends ago, I played in the first-ever John Hill's All-Star Band lineup and had a great time performing with my fellow musicians, some of whom I was meeting for the first time that night. Last weekend, the band Cynical 'Stache had me sitting in with them for the first time. And now, President's Day weekend saw me playing keyboards with five of the nine bands at an all-day festival. I love playing music with people, and it's easy to play music with people I haven't really met.

That's what I started doing five years ago at this time. I spent February, March, April and part of May road tripping through the South, on a mission to take in as much music as I could. I didn't know I was going to be meeting people and making music with them; that's just the way it happened. The road trip I took in 2011 was life-changing for me, and it's easy for me to see now how circumstances on that road trip made me want to take my musical career to the next level.

Over the course of four months, here’s what happened:
  • While I was in Little Rock, AR, a friend recommended I meet up with the 12-piece band the Greasy Greens because they needed a keyboard player for two shows: one at the Clinton Library welcoming 5,500 people at the end of the city marathon, and the other at the huge open-air Jumbo Gumbo Cookoff at River Market.
  • During Terry “Harmonica” Bean’s performance at the juke joint Po’ Monkey’s in Merigold, MS, Terry invited me to come and jam with him and his band at another Mississippi juke joint, Red’s in Clarksdale, over Juke Joint Festival weekend. His band turned out to be the Cornlickers based out of Harrisburg, PA and involved with the local blues scene.
  • In Leland, MS, I spent one half of a day touring the Birthplace of the Frog: The Jim Henson Delta Boyhood Exhibit; then the other half of the day hanging out with bluesman Pat Thomas at the Highway 61 Blues Museum and his home.
  • By the time Clarksdale, MS was overrun by blues tourists over Juke Joint Festival weekend, I had already jammed with half of the town and somehow got myself invited to join Stan Street and Big Dave Dunavent in a festival performance at Hambone Art Gallery.
  • In Nashville, TN, I used the Music City Hostel as a home base between visiting other cities, meeting world travelers and fellow musicians living on the cheap. There, I participated in some good jam sessions and a Grammy awards viewing party at the hostel, songwriter rounds on Church Street, and some laughable late-night jam sessions on Broadway.
  • At the Gym Jam in Jewett, TX, I played some keyboard and had an experience that ultimately inspired me to write the song “No I Ain’t from Texas” about that trip and all my prior travels in Texas over the years.
  • In Memphis, TN, I caught two days of the Beale Street Music Festival and got to see Jerry Lee Lewis, Stone Temple Pilots, Mumford & Sons, Jimmy Vaughan, Cake and more.
  • In Austin, TX, I caught some of the unknown acts performing at SxSW; the only one I remember by name was Zorch.
  • During Honeyboy Edwards's last-ever Q&A, I asked him a question about Led Zeppelin. I also witnessed what turned out to be his final live performance and shook his hand. A month later, I went to Robert Johnson Centennial concert in Greenwood, MS, where Honeyboy was scheduled to play but was sidelined with illness at home, leading to his death weeks later.
  • I gave a live performance at Airport Grocery in Cleveland, MS, playing my own keyboard; I lent my keyboard to Jack O & the Tearjerkers for their show at the Buccaneer Lounge in Memphis, TN; I used Jenn Bostic’s keyboard for my turn at a songwriters round at the now-defunct Sportstown BBQ Grill in Nashville, TN; I got to sing and play several times on the late Pinetop Perkins’s former piano at Hopson’s Plantation in Clarksdale, MS; I got to bang out some dusty old blues on a piano at Earnestine and Hazell’s, formerly a brothel favorited by Ray Charles in Memphis, TN.
  • After coincidentally meeting the cousin of an Australian guy I'd just met a few weeks earlier (long story), I was invited to set up my keyboard and sit in on a recording session featuring “Big A” Anthony Sherrod at Sun Studio in Memphis, TN.
  • Finally, I was somewhere in Tennessee swinging back up north when I received my first invitation to be an understudy keyboardist for Get the Led Out performances.