THE BLOG

Festival Musicians Describe the Ride of Their Lives (Part 3 of a Series)

07/11/2013 02:16 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2013

Tucked in the southwest corner of Colorado like a hidden jewel you're determined to find, Telluride is a sparkling diamond of a town that lures adventurers from all over the world. It's not easy to reach, with the closest interstate exit some 125 miles away in Grand Junction.

Yet it's certainly worth the trip, as many skiers, bikers, fly fishermen and festivarians have found out. Aspen and Vail are trendy, but Telluride is the place to be, whether it's to watch movies, musicians or the majestic beauty.

Ride Festival logo typeTyler James of Escondido, one of the lucky bands set to appear at the second annual Ride Festival this weekend (July 12-14), calls it "heaven."

He first visited in 2010 as a keyboardist with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, who were on the bill at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Among their admirers there were a little British folk-rock band called Mumford & Sons, who now make adoring audiences feel like they're witnessing a religious experience.

Playing Telluride was a bucket list item for James, who had performed in Aspen a number of times.

"When I played there I was like, 'Oh, this must be like the quintessential mountain village. This is like what everyone talks about.' Then I went to Telluride and was like, 'Oh, never mind.' This is ... it's like 10 blocks and it looks like you're in Switzerland. Everyone I met was just so cool and down to hang. Really friendly people and lots of free spirits there. Just a great vibe."

No wonder he's happy to be back this weekend, along with about 20 other bands, for three nights of stellar music, shining stars, crisp mountain air and -- at an elevation of 8,750 feet -- a lot of heavy breathing.

Yet musicians like James eventually make this town a can't-miss destination on their tour schedule, no matter how long it takes or how far they have to go.

So in the spirit of the Ride Festival, several scheduled performers were asked to answer one question:

What was the ride of your life? 

They weren't given any restrictions or boundaries, just encouragement to relive any thrilling moment that might have involved planes, trains and automobiles, their favorite amusement park ("like Magic Mountain?" James asked) or an experience less literal.

Nearly everyone who was asked, either through emails or phone interviews, responded, and some, like the prolific Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, went the extra mile.

So take a trip with these performers who will be in Telluride this weekend. And enjoy the Ride.

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The Drive-By Truckers, left to right: Jay Gonzalez, Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley, Brad Morgan and Matt Patton on Jan. 27, 2013, at Tipitina's in New Orleans. (Photo by Erika Goldring)

Patterson Hood, frontman, guitarist, singer/songwriter and tireless traveler of the Drive-By Truckers:

The Second-Longest Ride

We left Florence, Alabama at about 10 p.m. on the night after Christmas. It was 2001 and my band (Drive-By Truckers) had been on the road for about three years straight by then. We had taken a couple of weeks off for the holidays and I spent a few days in my old hometown to see family and friends and to at least have a six-hour head start on our journey to Portland, Oregon. The plan was to get in the van and drive straight there so we could at least have a day off there to recover from the drive and enjoy Portland before playing our two-night stand for New Year's Eve, which was to be followed by a monthlong tour of the western half of the U.S.

To call our vehicle uncomfortable would be a vast understatement. It was a 1995 Dodge Ram extended van with a cage in back for the gear. In the passenger compartment, we wedged in a bench seat, some blankets and a stereo (plus the gear that wouldn't fit in the back). There were five in the band plus our tour manager, Dick, who was a veteran road dog and dear friend. We set out and drove all night but at around 3 in the morning, we all decided that since everyone was already exhausted from all of the Christmas bullshit that we should stop for a few hours of sleep in a real bed (technically 4 people in 2 queen beds and a couple more in sleeping bags in a rundown Ramada Inn outside of Little Rock, Arkansas).

We got up a few hours later and drove all the next day and continued to drive into the next evening. At some point I remember there being a discussion between myself, who was driving that shift, and Dick our tour manager about which way to go at a fork in the interstate, and Dick being adamant about the way we proceeded to go. The wrong way. By the time we realized it, we had essentially driven the distance of half of Kansas in the wrong direction. I got out of the van in Lawrence, Kansas, and downed a couple of beers before climbing back in to ride the width of the state.

We hit Denver a couple of hours before sunup and around that time, my partner Cooley had a total "Dad from The Shining" meltdown that basically lasted about 30 minutes before he passed out and slept the next few hours. No one died so we kept driving. It was snowing pretty hard in Montana but we were as careful as possible and continued westward towards our destination. By Idaho we all were miserable and smelling very bad but someone had sobered up enough to continue and by then we were thinking we were on the home stretch.

By the time we hit eastern Oregon, it was a pitch black night and we were all a little beyond delirious. We had played every CD in our case, some multiple times, and had long ago run out of things to talk about other than how uncomfortable we were and what a terrible idea it was to drive the journey "nonstop." Nonetheless, there probably wasn't enough money then to buy one flight to Portland, much less six, so there really wasn't any other option other than leaving before Christmas and that wasn't really an option either, so we continued westward. That's when the fog hit. Fog like I've never seen before or since. Fog so thick that we finally had to pull over and stop for the night, about three hours short of our destination.

The next day we drove into Portland and began our biggest (at that time) tour ever of the western states. It was a tour that first launched our band in many parts of the country. Rolling Stone reviewed our new album (4 stars) in an issue that came out the night we played San Francisco and we played to increasing crowds that entire month. We had a drive down Teton Pass on a sheet of ice that still ranks as our most terrifying ride in 15 years of touring. We ended the tour, all sick with the flu, crammed into the van for a nonstop drive from Tucson, Arizona to Athens, Georgia (The Longest Ride). I think we had a couple of weeks off to recover before starting our next monthlong tour, in Texas.

In those days it was not uncommon for us to tour 200-250 shows a year. We played sick, tired, whatever. We always worked hard and played every show like it was the last show we'd ever play.

Still do.

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Jim Lauderdale (right), singer/songwriter, guitarist, two-time Grammy winner and current collaborator who is performing with Sirius XM Outlaw Country radio cohost, Grammy Award-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist Buddy Miller: (Photo by Paul Moore)

The summer after my senior year of high school, I got a ride part of the way from Flatrock, North Carolina to a bluegrass festival in Wise, Virginia, and had to hitchhike the rest of the way.  I was going to help a friend sell instruments and strings plus I wanted to see one of my favorite bands of all time, J.D. Crowe and the New South featuring Tony Rice, Ricky Scaggs and Jerry Douglas.

When I got to the festival, I discovered my friend had left early.  I stayed at the festival through early evening and then began hitching a ride back home.  I was a little nervous I wouldn't make it all the way back but finally on the outskirts of Johnson City, Tennessee, I got picked up by a man and a woman that said they would take me most of the way. I had my banjo with me and they wanted me to play in the backseat, which I gladly obliged as they enjoyed a large amount of beer in the front seat.  After several songs, I put my banjo away to get some shut-eye. 

I was awakened by screeching tires and the car zigzagging until it hit the side of the mountain to our left.  The woman had hit her head on the dashboard and was crying out in pain. The driver stumbled out of the car and I got out as well, luckily uninjured. I looked out to the right side of the road where there was an incredibly steep drop.  

Within a few minutes several drivers had stopped to offer assistance.  I told the first man that I was trying to get to Flatrock, North Carolina, and it turned out he lived quite close, so he offered to give me a ride all the way.  I finally arrived about 3:00 in the morning relieved and grateful to have made it back safely.

Oh, the great the lengths we will go through to hear bands we love!

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Rodrigo Sanchez (left), of Rodrigo y Gabriela, the acoustic guitar-playing duo from Mexico City whose fever-blistering style has amazed audiences worldwide and led them to find a home in Dublin, Ireland: (Photo by Tina Korhonen)

To go to Dublin in the first place. Arrive from Mexico City to Dublin. We started playing on the streets, busking.

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The Revivalists, left to right: George Gekas, Andrew Campanelli, Rob Ingraham, David Shaw, Ed Williams, Zack Feinberg; not pictured: Michael Girardot

David Shaw, frontman, lead singer/songwriter and guitarist of the Revivalists, the funky New Orleans-based septet that was profiled last week:

Ha-ha, man, you know what? My dad and my mom are probably gonna be pissed when they read this, but I'm gonna tell you the ride of my life. The ride of my life occurred when I was like 7 years old. My grandpa Bud showed up to our house and he asked me if we wanted to go fishing out at the lake, which is in Indiana (Brookville Lake, about 30 miles from Shaw's hometown in Hamilton, Ohio), and so I said, "Yeah, I love fishing." I think that was my summer out of first grade, so I was stressed out at school. ... He took me out on a country road and we proceeded to go hill-hopping in his old 1986 Buick station wagon. We were just hill-hopping down a country road. Me, 7 years old, and my 73-year-old grandpa went hill-hopping. And honestly, as soon as you said, "What was the ride of you life?" that was what popped into my head. ... Hill-hopping is -- you start going really fast right before it and then you're fucking hopping. It's not the safest thing ...

(Asked if his parents found out:) Well, my mom actually did. She found out, and that was the end of hill-hopping. You know, I come home (speaking in a high, excited voice), "Mom, mom, Grandpa took me hill-hopping!"

(Her reply:) "What?"

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Jessica Maros (right), lead singer/songwriter and guitarist, and Tyler James, singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer of Escondido, the daring duo who were profiled this week: (Photo by Sarah Barlow)

Jessica (laughing): Tyler, you go first.

Tyler: Well, man. There's not one specific ... besides like Magic Mountain?

Jessica: Mine was an elephant (three years ago during a trip with a friend to Asia, Australia and New Zealand). I rode an elephant in the Golden Triangle in Thailand, where Burma and Thailand meet up. ... And in the forest there's this elephant training camp. And you go and you learn how to ride an elephant bareback. And all you do is hold onto the ears; and the elephant's ears, they'll press their ears against your feet so that they hold you up and then you're basically just holding onto his ears. There's nothing else. I went up this cliff and went on a hike and then went into a lake, all on an elephant. So that was the ride of my life. ... Nobody goes to this because it's so far. ... It was just amazing.

Tyler: I'll keep mine more existential then. Probably the ride of my life is just being in a band with Jessica.

Jessica: Awww! That's so sweet.

Tyler: That's so true. Right before I met Jessica, I toured for a long while with Edward Sharpe and after I was a solo artist for a long time and kind of more humbler circumstances when I was with Edward Sharpe, I was getting to do all these things that were just bucket list things. I'm like, "Man, I don't know if I'll ever be able to top this." And to be able to do a lot of these same things with Jessica, where I started from scratch, whereas with Edward Sharpe, I kinda joined their band after they made their records, I was just kind of along for the ride playing piano. It's fun to start something from scratch where it's my music, me and Jessica's music, and getting to go back to Telluride. The last time I was there, we were headlining the Bluegrass Festival. I was like, "Man, I hope to get to do this someday again." I never knew if I would. So I'm really looking forward to being back there and doing it with my own band that we started from scratch.