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From the Road - High Plains Public Radio Ambassador's Tour - October 2023 - Pt. 2

I’m writing this from the beautiful Starlight Canyon Bed & Breakfast near Amarillo, Texas. My room is in a building built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the depression in the 1930s. I have a lot of association with the CCC. My grandpa Pepper Curry’s Brother Bernard was in the CCC in Wyoming. I’m not sure exactly which projects he worked on, but there are several CCC constructed buildings at Guernsey State Park where I used to go when I was a kid. I worked at Scottsbluff National Monument in the 2000s, and many of the buildings there were constructed by the CCC. There are some great photos of the work camp there, right at the base of the bluff. You can see the arch they built from the the trail leading to the top. It has toppled over, but it’s still there.

These CCC buildings are great. This one is made of stone, and was an old picnic area and concession stand from back when this place was a state park. It has thick stone walls, and is familiar as a picnic pavilion, even though it’s been converted into a house. If you have ever seen a CCC building you would recognize this right away. There must have been a set of stock blueprints that they used because these buildings are all so similar. They built nice resources that have lasted a very long time.

I played in Garden City on October 19th at the HPPR station in Garden City. It’s been so wonderful having HPPR as a partner and supporter during this tour. It has felt like coming home each time I stepped into the studio. The concert at the studio was a high point of the tour. HPPR Studios in Garden City are in an old library, and it has that classic old library look to it. I think it’s no secret that I love books, and consequently I love libraries. And especially old libraries. It was a fun place to play and the crowd was wonderfully supportive.

It had been a heavy day in Garden City however. That morning there had been a call about an active shooter at the Garden City Community College. I was scheduled to go in and speak to the classes there that day, but they were canceled of course. After a traumatic morning it was reported that the call was fake and they arrested the person who reported it. Regardless, it was real for the community and terrifying for many of the citizens. Thankfully, there were no injuries.

I headed to Texas the next day. There is an airplane museum in Liberal, Kansas that I wanted to see (I can never resist a museum of vehicles). It was fantastic! It’s really amazing to see a collection of so many aircraft in a small town like Liberal. If you’re ever in the area you should stop and see it.

My show that night was in Dumas, Texas which isn’t that far from Liberal. I headed south through the panhandle of Oklahoma. I grew up in Nebraska and Eastern Wyoming, and I have to say…it’s pretty flat there in that part of the high plains. Not that I’m complaining, I like the prairie. I’m just saying it’s pretty flat out there. I passed through the pungent town of Cactus, Texas where there’s a huge beef packing plant. It features every smell of the cow in every iteration. There’s also a Waylon Jennings song about Cactus, Texas.

The Toppled Turtle in Dumas, Texas is an enjoyable brewery full of good beer and nice people. I had a nice chat about music and the history of the area with a local who owned a body shop. A cowboy in a big hat chatted with me about big Texas ranches and we talked about cattle drives and the Swan Land and Cattle Company. The highlight of the show was when the brewery cats chased a big Texas grasshopper around the brewery. I saw it flying around but didn’t know what it was. They would paw at it and it would fly away. They’d pounce on it and it would skitter out of their paws. Finally, one of the cats picked it up in its mouth and took it to the back room. They were sure having fun.

I drove to Amarillo after the show in Dumas and checked into my hotel room. The next day I found my way out to the Jack Sisemore RV museum between Amarillo and Canyon. They were closed, but they let me in anyway because they were doing some work. It’s a wonderful little museum full of vintage campers and RVs as well as motorcycles, racecars, vintage clothing, signs, and so much more. A friend told me about it and I’m so glad I went to see it. I’ve never been to a museum featuring campers and RVs but I’ll go to every one I hear about now.

That evening I headed out to the Buffalo Grass Music Hall in the historic town of Panhandle, Texas. Brenda and Doyle Robinson run this beautiful venue down the street from the old train depot. Doyle is the mayor of Panhandle and a true advocate for the city. He pointed out all the buildings he has renovated and revitalized in the town, including the steakhouse across the street, where they bought me a wonderful dinner. (thanks again Doyle and Brenda!). They are working on the building next door to the Buffalo Grass Music Hall, and they have plans for an outdoor venue in an open lot across the street. Panhandle is truly lucky to have them around!

Doyle and I had a great conversation about the history of the area. The venue is decked out with historic photos of Panhandle, railroad and historic plat maps, posters from shows, and wonderful stained glass art made by Brenda. I have always wanted to learn to make stained glass, but I don’t have the time to do the things I do now, so that will have to wait. She has designed beautiful windows, an amazing stage backdrop, and has collaged a guitar with stained glass. It is a real feature of the place. If you’re ever in the area make sure to stop in for a show. Supporting venues like this is important if you want them to stay, and this one is very special!

Jenny Inzerillo was kind enough to get me set up with a show here at the Starlight Bed & Breakfast in the Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo. Like I said earlier, it’s centered around an old CCC picnic pavilion and concession stand that has now been converted into rooms with a kitchen and a common area. They also have a few cabins, an indoor and outdoor event space, and a beautiful setting. It’s just a nice place to be and celebrates a cool history of hope and helping in America. Nate and Liz Green are fantastic hosts, boosters of the arts, and funn to visit with.

I was setting up for my show on the 22nd of October when I noticed the light get strange, almost as if another eclipse was happening. I looked up and saw a plume of smoke rising into the sky on the plateau across the canyon. I heard sirens and fire trucks headed up the hill. I have a little bit of experience with fires from my time in the park service, and I could tell by the windspeed and direction that we might be in a bad spot. I texted Nate to tell him about the fire and to see if he knew where to get updates. He hurried down to the stage and calls from neighbors started coming in on what was happening.

The development on top of the plateau had been evacuated, and our location was on alert to possibly be evacuated. We watched the plume shift from rising straight up, to blowing down flat across the ground. The wind would shift and we smelled smoke, then it would shift again and look almost clear. I prepped my stuff in case we had to make a quick escape, but I didn’t want to take it all down if it was nothing. It was a tense hour.

Finally, some neighbors from up on the hill called to ask if the music was still on, he asked how the fire looked, and they said it looked like the fire departments were getting it under control. We decided to carry on with the show after a little delay to settle our nerves. The Texas Gales were blowing and the sky was clear. I would have played “Texas Gales” but it’s been too long since I played it last. I’ll have to learn it when I get back. It was a nice concert out on their beautiful lawn in the picturesque Palo Duro Canyon. It’s a wonderful place to stay and I recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.

After the concert I went to the very touristy (but very tasty) Big Texan Steakhouse. It’s right along I-40 in Amarillo, and you can’t miss it. It’s lit very brightly and the yellow facade and huge signs almost demand that you look in that direction. The line was long but there were several activities to keep busy with while I waited including fortune telling machines, a shooting gallery, a big gift shop, and a bar that serves beer brewed there at the Big Texan. They seat you at big community tables and I sat next to a nice couple from Spain who were driving the length of route 66 as part of their round-the-world trip. I had a big medium-rare ribeye that was one of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. As touristy as it is, it’s still totally worth it.

It has been a great tour and I am very thankful to all the folks I met along the way who came to my shows, helped set up and tear down, ran sound, booked me in their venues and helped me with promotion, setup, load in/out, etc. I want to especially thank Jenny Inzerillo for all of her support and promotional work. She’s a real treasure in the HPPR region and has more energy than anyone I have ever met. Thanks to Abby Killingsworth for all her help with the tour and for setting up the Living Room Concert at HPPR. Special thanks to Val Smith for help with booking, accommodations, introductions and so much more. She’s a real booster of the arts and music in Garden City, Kansas and hosts a great music show on the weekends called “Songbirds” on HPPR, tune in if you can.

Thanks to Trevor La Cost, Nick Evert, Terra Bona Hawaiian Shaved Ice, Tumbleweed Music Festival, Cottonwood Coffeehouse, the Toppled Turtle, Buffalo Grass Music Hall, Starlight Canyon B&B, and of course a huge thanks to all the people at Hight Plains Public Radio for everything that you do.

It has been such a great tour and I’m sad it’s over, but I’m excited to go home and see my family. I’m headed across north eastern New Mexico tomorrow, so I’m hoping to find some red chili along the way.

Thanks for listening High Plains!

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