Diamond Snap.

I find myself writing more about days off than days on at the moment. I think we’re starting to get used to this Dylan schedule. Certainly the last few non-show days have been most enjoyable. For today’s day of luxuriation there was nothing particular planned apart from a trip to the Rockmount shop just a few blocks away from the Four Seasons. After a pain/humiliation visit to the Four Seasons gym and outdoor pool I was ready to hit the street with Mark, Richard and Pete. We entered the store and were greeted immediately by a 97 year-old shop assistant named Sam who asked “where are you guys from?” “London” announced Mark where upon Sam sang a verse from ‘London Bridge is falling down’. “Not as bad as in New York at the moment” came Mark’s reply…Introductions over, we were warmly welcomed into the store and promptly met Steve Weil, the grandson of the original owner Jack A. Weil. Rockmount shirts are world renowned and the store is visited by many touring musicians and celebrities. A family business since the 40’s. Jack A. was motivated to develop a distinctive look for cowboys, ranchers and farmers living in the American West. They had special boots and hats but wore ordinary work shirts. Jack A’s special shirt styles have many features different from conventional shirts. His Rockmount shirts are slim fitting to accentuate the body, whereas conventional shirts were boxy. A better fitting shirt is less likely to get caught or snagged while riding the range. The shirt yokes broaden a man’s shoulders. The flap pockets fasten to better hold their contents. The snap fasteners have a break away function to let loose if the shirt got caught, and hold more permanently than buttons. Can you imagine a cowboy who likes to sew? The signature “Diamond” snap and “Sawtooth” pocket designs are individual and different, the same driving force behind so many of their distinctive features. Rockmount’s magic in popularizing western wear was an appeal to vanity. Cowboys have a strong independent identity and want to be different. Jack A. offered them a special fashion statement. Not so much to be worn while they worked the ranch but to make them stand apart from city slickers when they come to town. These western shirts are dress-up finery, to be worn on Saturday night in town or at the rodeo.

The hotel teacup exchange continues. As some readers may be aware, I carry an electric tea kettle and a teapot everywhere I go on tour. I used to bring with me a full tea service but found that unless they were super-glued down, the hotel staff would take the cups assuming they were hotel property. I now use hotel cups which do on occasion find their way to the hotel kitchens so I have a rota system. I take the cups with me to another hotel and most of the time, they are recognized as ‘foreign’ and left alone but when they do get taken, I simply ‘borrow’ another. Simple.

As well as my bulging Briggs and Riley suitcase, Callaway golf clubs and my NHT loudspeakers in flight case, I also carry with me my banjo in a guitar case with a white gaffer-tape label on which is written the words ‘DANGER BANJO’. A suitable warning I often think as I hack away at my attempt at clawhammer, UK style. I’m sure there was no-one in the next room to me as I heard no complaints all afternoon. I practiced until I could bear the pain no more. There can’t be many more humbling instruments than a banjo but every now and then during my masochistic sessions, rather like playing golf,  there is a glimmer of hope, a half-bar of bluegrass bliss, a moment of melody in a scrapyard of half wit twangs that keeps me coming back for more. I’m gonna nail this if it’s the last thing I do and I don’t care how many people I annoy in the process. I think I’m beginning to see why banjo players have fewer or no teeth. With fingers sore and head ringing, I put the torture device back in its case and thought about the early evening rendezvous for a trip to a restaurant called simply ‘the Kitchen’. A delightful place that comes highly recommended. The food and service didn’t let us down, Mark actually claiming that he’d never had better hummus or swordfish. My rib-eye and broccoli was pretty spectacular too. It’s Halloween evening and the restaurant cleared out pretty quickly as the locals had their minds on a traditional late-night spook session. On the amble back to the hotel the streets were crawling with people dressed up for the occasion. They’re pretty big on Halloween in the USA! You gotta love it.

Show day and the Hollandaise sauce debacle. Ever grateful to be luxuriating in such delightful surroundings, as difficult as it is, we try not to take any of it for granted. However…. this morning’s Four Seasons Hollandaise on my Eggs Benedict was tasteless and bland. How is it that this simple yet illusive sauce can be so varied. It’s somehow refreshing to know they can’t get it right all the time. This was literally the only MINOR hiccup in what has been a spectacular stay in a spectacular hotel. One of two brand new Four seasons hotels we’ll be staying at on this trip, it’s difficult to rate this one too highly. The gym and outdoor pool and jacuzzi too are typically brilliant and well worth a mention. This morning’s swim was a great way to kick-start another ‘3-in-one’ day.

We were back on board Jason’s bus at 2:15 and heading for the airport once more. The sun was out and the air crisp and clear and once airborne, we are reminded once more of the sheer beauty and vastness of this place. We bade a fond farewell to the Rocky mountains as we headed South for Texas and the Dallas / Fort worth metropolitan area. Amy served up a huge sushi platter, Denver renowned for having some of the best sushi in the country. By the time we landed and met up with our ground transport, we were stuffed.  The ride to the Verizon was scheduled for the customary 20 minutes but in the event it took more like 45. Roadworks being the culprit. I couldn’t believe the traffic volume and the sheer scale of the highway system. Roads, roads and more roads filled with cars, cars and more cars, as far as the eye can see.

There were very few visits to catering today from the band. With an hour lost to yet another time-zone crossing, show time was upon us all too soon. The Verizon is a particularly well built and quite large theatre and soundcheck revealed some strange sonic idiosyncrasies. (don’t you love that word?) What one would imagine to be a perfect stage for acoustics was actually quite strange. It’s difficult to explain exactly but it has to do with separation, possibly due to the run of arenas and outdoor venues we’ve played. It just goes to show, no matter how hard you try, it’s never perfect. Mark, John and Mike running through some melodies in the dressing room…

The show however was as much fun as ever with many great moments one of which springs to mind. Mark introduced the band as usual although un usually forgetting to introduce Mike by name. we launched into Done with Bonaparte and I noticed Mike looking strangely at his Uilleann pipes. After the intro he got up, unstrapped himself and grabbed a flute on which he played the rest of the song. He later said that he realized he had a Bb chanter instead of a C and promptly mimed the intro. A wise decision. Also Ian’s spectacular intro to Corned Beef City contained more dazzling triplet quarter notes than usual. As usual, the crowd were on their feet by the end which was heartwarming as this was clearly a ‘Bob’ audience, this was later confirmed when we watched Mark and Bob onstage together for a couple of tunes at the start of Bob’s set. A great night. Pete managed to get some great pics of Mark and Bob together..

pic Pete Mackay

Soon we were back in the cars and sitting in heavy traffic crawling through the same roadworks we got held up in a few hours earlier. Since few of us visited catering this afternoon, we were pretty famished. In the car I asked Mark what he thought might be on the menu on board the plane this evening. I bet him it would be Ribs. He didn’t take the bet. Wise, I was right. And they were fantastic too.

The 30 minute flight to Tulsa was smooth and blissful, we raised our glasses and toasted another great day all the while wondering where it all went right. There was more to come. I’d forgotten that we also had two buses and when the aircraft door opened, there standing on the tarmac was Saen next to the open door of her bus. We stepped off the plane and onto the bus and exactly 20 minutes later we were walking into the lobby of the ‘interesting’ Mayo hotel, Tulsa.

More on that in tomorrow’s thrilling installment. Don’t Miss It.