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Gip's Place: Alabama's Last Juke Joint

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Gip's Place: Alabama's Last Juke Joint

You can find Gip’s place using your GPS these days. It’s probably on there, but at some point you’re just going to have to trust it and keep going. And you’re just going to have to trust me that it will be worth it. Gip’s is a special place, one of the last authentic Southern Juke Joints, and the very last in the whole state of Alabama. It’s only about a half-hour from downtown Birmingham, but it’s a world away. Henry “Gip” Gipson has been hosting people in his backyard since 1952, slowly adding this and that along the way until he had created a real music venue with a stage and lights and a sound system. He was a grave digger by day, so he needed an outlet in his down time and he found that outlet in the blues. Today, Mr. Gip is almost a hundred years old, but he still enjoys welcoming people into his Juke Joint, sipping a beer and listening to great music. Since he never had a business license, local authorities shut him down several years ago. He said he might not be able to run a business without a license, but nobody was going to stop him from throwing a party in his backyard every Saturday night. And that’s exactly what it is. Bring your own drinks and make a contribution for the band and the bills and then pull up a seat and enjoy. Feel free to get out and dance too. While Mr. Gip is in a wheelchair these days, I remember when he would dance the night away with any- and everyone that walked in the door. And everyone is welcome at Gip’s Place. If you don’t believe there is a place where young and old, black and white, American and international people can get along anymore, you’ve clearly never been to Gip’s on a Saturday night. When I was there this last weekend I even saw Elvis and Marilyn there. There were people in shorts and T-shirts, and others in business suits and ties. Out front in the parking lot, there were cars and trucks of all makes and models, and even a limousine. You really have to go, and go now, because Mr. Gip isn’t going to be around forever and once he goes, it’s unlikely that the community will allow this place to continue. Even if they do, it won’t be the same without the man himself holding court on the dance floor. This place is as iconically Southern as it gets. Be sure you see it before it’s gone.

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Teddy's Juke Joint - Like Coming Home

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Teddy's Juke Joint - Like Coming Home

Just off of the infamous Highway 61 near Zachary, Louisiana, you turn off on a dirt road and find yourself standing outside of Teddy’s Juke Joint. It’s hard to imagine you’re only 15 minutes from downtown Baton Rouge, because it feels a world apart. As you approach the front door, you may wonder if it’s open, but I promise you it is - every night of the week. As soon as you open that door, though, be prepared to be transported to a different time and a different world. Much like stepping into a music lover’s version of Narnia, Teddy’s is a whirlwind of colorful lights and amazing sounds. It’s what I would imagine it would be like inside of a kaleidoscope. As wonderful as this place appears at first glance, the real magic has yet to happen. Teddy and his wife Nancy have been running this joint for over 40 years, and they are some of the most hospitable and wonderful people you’re likely to meet - just good people all around. Pull up a seat at the bar and order a drink and you’ll soon find your feet tapping along with the beat and your face smiling from ear to ear. Teddy spins the records and Nancy pours the drinks, and together they manage to keep the place spotless and running smoothly, with a little help from their friends on the weekend. Speaking of the weekend, that’s an ideal time to come to Teddy’s as there are frequently live bands and jam sessions, but any night of the week your ears will be treated to great blues, soul, and an occasional slip into rock and roll. If you’re hungry, they’ll whip you up a pork chop sandwich or some red beans and rice with their own secret blend of seasoning. I’ve had the pleasure of visiting all of the remaining true Southern juke joints over the last decade, and Teddy’s is definitely my favorite. It’s the southernmost juke joint on Highway 61, and the only one that’s open 7 days a week. Whenever I’m anywhere near Baton Rouge, I find my steering wheel pulling me towards Teddy’s, even if it’s just to stop in and say hi. I know I’ll find some good conversation, a hot meal, a cold beer and great music. Yep, Teddy’s is a lot like coming home…

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This Week on the Road - April 4th-11th

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This Week on the Road - April 4th-11th

This week has been a good one and a busy one and my last one in Louisiana. I traveled a bit across the North Shore area, north of Lake Ponchartrain and then ducked back to Baton Rouge for the wonderful 3rd Street Songwriters Festival. After a great weekend of music and new friends, I headed back to my former home city of New Orleans to get some work done and prepare to move on to Alabama, which I plan to do the minute this post is published. It’s been a great two months here in The Pelican State, but it’s long past time for me to be moving on, and I’m looking forward to it.

After I finished writing last week, I did indeed go for a couple of beers at the Abita Brewpub in Abita Springs. I had forgotten how cute a town Abita Springs is, and I enjoyed a little walk around before ducking into the brewpub. The bartender was Rita. Rita at Abita! She was very friendly and I enjoyed talking with her as I tried some of the Abita beers I haven’t had the chance to taste yet. When I was done there, I headed down the road and stopped by Ruby’s Roadhouse for a nightcap. This is a great old dive bar and music venue in Mandeville, and if only they’d make people go outside to smoke it would be even better. It’s a cool place though, and I’ll have to get back some day when they have live music on.

I woke up Thursday to torrential downpours and thunder so I made the command decision to stay in bed a little longer. I made a cup of coffee and watched some TV from the cozy confines of the back of my van. It wasn’t what I had planned, but that kind of weather isn’t great for taking photos or really much of anything, so I took advantage of it in the best way I could think of. I may have to do that more often…

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Snapshots: Third Street Songwriters Festival

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Snapshots: Third Street Songwriters Festival

This past weekend I had the distinct pleasure of attending and volunteering at the Third Street Songwriter’s Festival in Downtown Baton Rouge. This annual event brings together the best songwriters from around the state and region for a weekend of performances and workshops in the state’s capital city. This year’s festival brought out well over a hundred songwriters from 13 different states, including some big names like Jim McCormick, C.J. Solar and Jeffrey Steele. It was wonderful to meet and watch so many amazing songwriters in one place and it made for a magical weekend in Baton Rouge. While most of the performances took place in the bars along Third Street, the two main performances took place in some pretty fantastic venues as well. Friday night we went to the incredible Red Dragon Listening Room on Florida Street to hear two great rounds headlined by Jim McCormick. Saturday night, we filled the small and intimate Manship Theater to hear the wizardry of Jeffrey Steele. For me, the best part of the weekend was a late night song swap on a dark corner downtown, where we talked and jammed until almost 3 a.m. On Sunday evening, during the final round of the festival, one of the songwriters on stage sang a Hurricane Katrina song. As he hit his last note, thunder clapped behind him right on key, and the skies opened up in true Louisiana fashion, leaving the last two songs of the weekend unplayed. I guess I’ll just have to wait for next year to hear them. All told, it was an amazing weekend in Baton Rouge of networking, storytelling, songwriting and music. I wouldn’t have missed it. I hope you enjoy these photos from my weekend in Baton Rouge.

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This Week on the Road - March 28th-April 4th

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This Week on the Road - March 28th-April 4th

Hello everyone, and thank you for stopping by. The flowers are coming in nicely here in East Louisana, but the weather has cooled off significantly as well. I’ve been enjoying the little cold snap though, and sleeping really well cozy-ed up in the back of my van. I had an interesting stop in Alexandria this week, a town which has definitely seen better days, but which isn’t dead yet. From there I headed back into Cajun Country for the weekend, enjoying great food, drink, music and company. I stopped off in Lafayette to get some work done and have cruised across the north of the eastern panhandle to the North Shore where I am writing to you from today. It’s been a fun week as I start to make my preparations for my departure from Louisiana. It’s always sad to go, but it’s almost time I moved on. HERE is the link to this week’s map if you like to follow along as I go.

When I left you last week, I made my way south along the Mississippi River levee, and found the river is really high. It was definitely higher than the road in a lot of places, and while the levee was doing what it was built to do, it’s still a little bit nerve racking to be driving below the water line. I stopped in a few places to just look out at the river as it flowed past. I made the turn northwest when I hit Louisiana Route 1 and headed on to Mansura for a stop at Juneau’s Cajun Meat Market. This is a spot recommended by a friend as having the best boudin (Cajun pork and rice sausage) in Louisiana, so I had to stop in and give it a go. This was a real butcher shop with all kinds of beautiful fresh meat on display - if I had a proper refrigerator I would have probably spent a fortune there. Unfortunately, I don’t, so I settled for some boudin, a fried boudin ball, and a boudin and pepperjack cheese wrap. All three were amazing and while they didn’t help my cholesterol, they were well worth the stop.

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Fred's Lounge - Keeping Cajun Music Alive

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Fred's Lounge - Keeping Cajun Music Alive

Fred’s Lounge in downtown Mamou, Louisiana isn’t a big place. In fact, depending on which way you’re driving, you could drive past it and never know you missed it. It’s not fancy and if you weren’t aiming for it, it probably wouldn’t entice you to stop by its appearance. Fred’s is only open for about six hours a week, from about 8 a.m. to about 2 p.m. every Saturday morning, so if you came through Mamou at any other time it would be closed anyway. But during those six hours, it is a magical place to be.

For those of you who know me, you’ll know that I have a very special place in my heart for the Mississippi Delta and for the Delta Blues in particular. If you visit Clarksdale these days, in the very heart of the Delta, you can find live blues seven days a week, although it’s taken a concerted effort over many years to make that happen. It’s amazing, but it exists in a museum state. By that I mean that while you can see it in a great juke joint like Red’s, you will watch it sitting down on what was once the dance floor…

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A Florida Keys Pub Crawl

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A Florida Keys Pub Crawl

Ah, the Florida Keys. The closest you can get to a Caribbean vacation without having to fly. This wonderful chain of islands stretches from just south of Miami all the way to the Dry Tortugas, although the road will only take you from Key Largo to Key West. This hundred mile stretch is full of fun activities like wreck diving and dolphin encounters, and has some great state parks and beaches along the way. The vibe is definitely more “island time” than the rest of the country, and you are sure to have a good time when you visit. Wherever you are in the Keys, you’re never far from a good bar. Whether you stop in for a pint after a full day of diving, or hang out all day sipping margaritas with your feet in the sand, you are sure to find a great place to while away your time in the islands. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, and it’s not meant to be. These are just some of my favorites as you make your way south through the Keys. You should definitely not try and hit all of these in one day, and I always recommend using a designated driver. Also remember there’s only one road, so you could hit a few on the way down and a few on the way back up.

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Where Bluegrass Comes From

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Where Bluegrass Comes From

While all modern forms of music have roots somewhere, it’s always fascinating to trace them back and try and discover where they came from and how they evolved. The blues will take you back to Dockery Farms in Mississippi and jazz to Congo Square in New Orleans, although the influences of those music forms go back much further. Hip-hop got its start in New York City. Many would say Sun Studios in Memphis was where rock and roll was born, although I tend to think otherwise. Each genre tends to have its early influences and groundbreaking shifts which led to how we define them today. Bluegrass music really gained that definition in the mid 1940’s when Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt joined the already extant band The Bluegrass Boys. There is no doubt though that the man who brought them together and nurtured the evolution of the sound was the founder of that group and the undisputed Father of Bluegrass: Kentucky native Bill Monroe.

Bill Monroe was born in a small house on Pigeon Ridge in central Kentucky. That house was torn down and a new one built in its place when Bill was a kid…

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This Week on the Road - September 14th-20th

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This Week on the Road - September 14th-20th

It’s been a great week out here in North Central Ohio. Even though I haven’t gone very far, I’ve been seeing a lot of cool things and spent the entire weekend at the Little C Music Festival in Canton. The weather has warmed up again, but the days are starting to get noticeably shorter. The first hints of fall are starting to show up in the natural world, with more obvious ones like pumpkins at the stores and Halloween shops opening in the man-made one. I love the fall and am very happy to welcome the cooler weather and beautiful changing colors. It means warm apple cider and campfires and that all of my favorite holidays are right around the corner. I’ve had a great summer, but I am definitely ready for the change of season.

My week started with a second great day in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I enjoyed a few walks in the park including out to Blue Hen Falls, one in The Ledges area and another through the Beaver Marsh. The weather was a bit overcast that day…

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The Big Three of Northern Ohio

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The Big Three of Northern Ohio

From the wonderful lakefront communities of the northeast like Geneva-on-the-Lake to the tiny Lake Erie islands like Put-In Bay, and from the bright lights of Cleveland to the natural wonders of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, there is a lot to do in Northern Ohio. The three big mega-attractions, though, are definitely the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Cedar Point Amusement Park in Sandusky, and Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame. I visited all three during my time in the area and thought I would jot down some thoughts on them for anyone who might come for a visit to one or more of these attractions in the future.

First and foremost, there are a lot of different ways to get tickets to these attractions, and the worst possible way seemed to be buying them at the ticket-window. Navigating the ticket buying process is a bit of a nightmare, but you definitely need to figure out how to buy your tickets in advance which will save you a considerable amount of money..

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Little C Music Festival - Local Roots Run Deep

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Little C Music Festival - Local Roots Run Deep

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Little C Music Festival in Canton, Ohio. While I have been to quite a few music festivals this year, this one was different because I got a peak behind the curtain. My old college friend Jason, who runs JLS Artist Management, was running the festival along with one of the bands he represents Hey Monea who are from Canton. It was really cool to see this festival from the inside and get to meet everyone involved, and I had a great time at the festival and hanging around in Canton.

The name “Little C” comes from the idea that Canton is often overlooked among the “Big Cs” of Ohio: Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus. In recent years Canton has tried to reinvigorate itself from the inside and create more of a tourist draw with events like Little C Music Festival. While the Pro Football Hall of Fame is excellent and will always be a big draw, it’s great to see a town moving away from being a one trick pony…

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These Weeks on the Road - August 16th-September 6th

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These Weeks on the Road - August 16th-September 6th

Whew, I'm taking a deep breath. Sorry for the lack of content over the last few weeks. I've been out guiding a quick tour from New York to Miami for my old tour company. I had planned on getting a bunch of work done as I went, but running a tour is just always so all-consuming. Even with 12 years experience and being in a region I'm really comfortable and familiar with, there's just so much to do behind the scenes to keep a tour running smoothly and keep up with all the paperwork etc. And that's not even mentioning the 5,000+ miles I've driven in the last few weeks. It was awesome to be back in the driver's seat though, and it was a really good tour all around. But it's also good to be back on my own and back with my Shadow Catcher. 

I met my group in Newark on a rainy Sunday morning and we set off to historic Philadelphia. Despite the rain, they kept their spirits up as I gave them a quick tour through Independence National Historical Park, pointing out some of the more important buildings and recounting stories of our Founding Fathers and their lives. We stopped into Carpenter's Hall, site of the First Continental Congress and also in to see the Liberty Bell. From there we headed out for cheesesteaks at Reading Terminal Market and a quick run up the "Rocky Steps" at the Philadelphis Museum of Art before departing the City of Brotherly Love…

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