What can one say about Waycross, Georgia? I’ve passed through a time or two but never stopped there long enough to soak it up. When local troubadour, blues man, and legend among Georgia musicians who know country blues pickers, Ross Pead, invited me and my band mate, Don Sechelski, to do some back-up singing/guitar playing at the 19th Annual Gram Parsons Guitar Pull, we said, “Hell yeah!”
If you pay attention to songwriting, 60’s music, country music, burritos, and/or strange things that happened to dead bodies, you may know about Gram Parsons. Mr. Parsons or Cecil Conner, III (his given name) was a native of Waycross, Georgia. He lived fast, died young, wrote some pretty cool songs, and most likely would have left a good looking corpse. But his stoner buddies, who allegedly wanted to carry-out his final wishes, kidnapped his remains and attempted to burn them at the Joshua Tree Monument. Aside from violating a few federal laws, they made certain that Gram’s musical legend would be nearly as strange as the South Georgia swamp town from which he came.
This being my first visit to Waycross, I was not sure what to expect. But Waycross did not disappoint. I honestly did not venture farther than our motel and the Okefenokee Fairgrounds. Still, Waycross and Mr. Parsons are forever “burned” into my psyche.
Hot Burrito #1….
We drove to Waycross from Atlanta on a Friday morning in late September. I should mention that Waycross is hotter than hell. Even in late September.
As a general rule, playing stringed instruments outside in heat and humidity sucks. Guitars get out of tune. You sweat. It’s a challenge.
But we love what we do and are always glad to do it. So we get up there and we sweat, tune, sing, and strum. A few folks clap. Maybe somebody takes a video. It’s all good.
Nothing ever goes as you’ve planned. And if you consider it, nothing much ever works as planned in other aspects of life either. We musicians should not be so precious about when we get nervous, screw-up, the sound sucks, or we forget song lyrics. Just drive-on because it don’t mean nothin’.
This is not to say we don’t strive to be as “ass kicking” as we can. But there are times when the Gods of Thunder and Rock-n-Roll are disinclined to keep you in their favor. When these things come your way, it is best to forgive yourself and know that “flesh wounds” happen. Just keep fighting on. If Gram were alive, I’m sure he would say the same. Or not. I hear he was a bit of an asshole.
I’ll Be Your Emmylou – First Aid Kit
If you haven’t heard any of Gram’s music, you owe it to yourself to check him out. I can’t begin to claim that I’m a scholar. I should be honest here and mention that I only listened to his music because I had to learn a couple of his songs for the show. But do you remember that feeling when you suddenly “discover” a band or an artist? The feeling I refer to seems to come less often as you progress in the songwriting journey. I hate that. It happens though. You hear a song and then begin to break it down. You identify and diagnose the defects. You develop a threshold for what is an acceptable or tasteful amount of them. You become a little snobby.
And then you are called to learn some tunes for a show. Tunes by some artist that has been on the fringe of your musical journey. Most likely an artist that you’ve heard in passing. Or perhaps you read something on this person. But you did not honestly take the time to “hear” their work in that way of hearing. The way of which I speak is a bit of an immersion. Or if you write songs, something of a surrender to the ether. If you get to that ether, you will appreciate the twisting of genres that Gram managed. The way he pulls on the lonely in his sublime way.
“Seems like this whole town’s insane” – Sin City
Our set at the “Guitar Pull” went as well as we could make it go. Afterwards, we planned on returning to the fairgrounds to listen to some of the performers who were set to follow us on the bill. But we decided to return to our motel room so we could change from our sweaty clothes and get some vittles before we returned.
But then the Lord’s burning rain came on us.
First, our car wouldn’t start. Being parked at the Okefenokee Fairground was advantageous in terms of folks on hand who could jump the car. We scaled that hurdle in fairly good fashion.
Next, when we arrived at the room. But the door refused to open. Motel staff suggested perhaps the data on our key cards was somehow deleted by our smart phones. We trudged back and forth to the motel lobby getting our key cards scanned and re-scanned. No dice. The door still would not open. We were getting a bit frantic because our dog was in the room and he wasn’t barking. Meanwhile, the motel sent a larger gentleman to our room to shove more efficiently than we were able. But the door remained stoic. Motel owners were called. Soon a posse of men were gathered around our door, removing weather proofing from the plate glass window.
We waited. We slumped on the stairs near the obstinate motel door in the heat. We made pseudo bets on whether or not the men might drop the window glass. And as we waited, about 30 minutes in, we noticed a woman approaching the motel owners and employees. She was an attractive lady, wearing a short dress or so we initially thought. In some attempt at fairness, one might call it a micro dress. One might even say it was a shirt. She was also wearing leopard- print platform shoes. She was not wearing underwear. The owner yelled at her to “put on some pants.” The woman replied she was merely walking to her car.
We asked ourselves if we actually saw her.
The glass finally gave way. The door never did. Our dog waited patiently as the motel employees climbed in and out of the window and tried to open the door from inside the room. I cannot think of a time when he has been better behaved. So I gave thanks to Mr. Parsons, patron saint to musicians stranded in love, life, or motel rooms and a nod to that mystical, semi-naked woman who walked to her car, sans pants. I’m not sure what she may be the patron saint of. I guess I would say the entire Waycross experience.
The motel put us up in a different room. We didn’t go back to hear any of the other musicians or jam because it was nearly midnight and we were tired.
Sure, we crabbed about the heat. We marveled at the woman with no pants. We dog-cussed the rental car company. We missed getting to jam with some of the folks. But we discovered Gram. And getting a sweaty bear hug from Ross was a bit of icing as well.
We traveled with the swamp, like a wild goose. Tomorrow, we will still be there. Because Gram and the swampy town from which he came does something to you.
Don’t be precious. Sing the Waycross blues and let things work inside.