The blues I’m referring to are not a giant saltwater fish. They’re a form of musical expression that I find quite useful for moving beyond a disappointing and even frightful political season this November. In a moment or two I’ll tell you more about my recent reentry to the blues…
Earlier in the week, my daughter reminded me of trying to catch the rise of the “Super Moon” as she was headed toward the easternmost point of U.S. territory at Point Udall on the island of St. Croix. I don’t know if she was able to enjoy that moonrise or not, but given the standard weather picture in the Caribbean, I suspect she had a good time with it.
I climbed the local ridge in the hope of seeing the “Super Moon” or some variation of it, but found only another fabulous cloud blanket in the east. Undefeated, I turned my attention 180 degrees westward and found sweet consolation in the sun that melted down brilliantly through this bluesy life on earth…
My wife emailed me at work to say that on Friday night she was taking me on a date to a secret location whether I wanted to go or not. This sounded pretty good to a guy who’s been happily chained to marriage for more than three whole decades. We went out to dinner in Corning and I still didn’t know where we were headed, but soon enough we found ourselves at an unlikely rock ‘n’ roll/blues venue called the Clemens Center in Elmira, New York.
I’d heard of Big Head Todd and the Monsters but had never listened to their music before. Here was the rock band along with special guests, the blues great, Mud Morganfield (the eldest son of legendary Muddy Waters), plus Billy Branch, who played with the Willie Dixon band, plus Ronnie Baker Brooks (phenomenal guitarist and son of Chicago blues master, Lonnie Brooks), and Erica Brown (“Denver’s Queen of the Blues”) on vocals and dance. It was a shake-out performance of the Big Head Blues Club in “Way Down Inside: the Songs of Willie Dixon.”
I’ve long been a fan of Dixon, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, from the days of “Spoonful” Cream and Led Zeppelin on back to the glorious mid-century hits created by Willie, the “poet laureate of the blues.”
And the beautiful Clemons Center, with its gold-leaf details and reconstructed opera boxes, rocked.
And even this stoic old rambler twitched and shook “way down inside,” as well as through his blue extremities. His wife deserved more than a kiss for hauling him to Elmira at the end of a bloody long week.
The next day I rebounded with a fly rod, seeking asylum as the gun season for deer in New York and bear in Pennsylvania exploded into action. I knew I could find safety on Fall Creek, the brown trout and landlocked salmon water flowing through the heart of Ithaca, New York.
It was a gorgeous Saturday morning but the creek was low and exceptionally clear, and the fish were simply uninterested in flies, no matter what I offered. Four hours of fruitless casting transpired before the western sky darkened to the color of an ugly bruise, and before the fish finally turned on.
Then the waters rocked like the fiery guitar play and soulful singing of Ronnie Baker Brooks at the Clemens Center. I thought of Brooks’ January 2013 gig, playing with Buddy Guy, Keb Mo, and Lonnie Brooks at a Presidential Inaugural event honoring President Obama. I made a long 50-foot cast of the Woolly Bugger at a group of fish, rather than the short precise casting I’d been doing all morning, and a landlocked salmon snapped it up as if it represented the last bit of grub on Earth.
An onlooker standing on the bridge above my head was asking excited questions and distracting me from getting a good picture, but that was okay. We’ve all seen nice pictures of fish before. The pace was changing and I would soon land several more landlockeds, a version of Atlantic salmon averaging 20-inches long in Fall Creek and known for its head-shaking and airborne fighting demeanor.
So, the storm blew in, a cold front emerged full-tilt boogie. The wind became ferocious. The air was filled with leaves and falling branches; the creek was a flowing carpet of leafy debris. I humped for the vehicle as the rain cranked into hail and snow, and as the air temperature plummeted.
It was time to be thankful for getting back, for the good in life, for each moonrise and sunset, for our friends and family, for making peace…
with the blues gone golden down inside.
Working through the blues by listening to the blues and fishing the blue (water, that is). I was really glad you enjoyed the show, as I was taking a bit of a stab in the dark assessing whether you’d dig it.
On a weather note, something similar happened to us. One minute it was unseasonably warm (close to 70), and then the wind came out of nowhere. It was nearly strong enough to blow us over and has lasted for 3 days, dropping temperatures close to 25 degrees in the first hour.
It worked really well for me, so thanks for that! As for the weather, I’ve noted how people from over a wide area saw a similar cold-front phenomenon, dramatic winds, precipitation, and plummeting temps. Our patterns seem pretty much parallel now, except we’re probably 10-20 degrees colder in NY.
Awesome! Sounds like a fabulous show – you know I got a case of the blues, too. Hellhound on my trail. What a great surprise by the wife. Here’s to the blues (the musical blues, that is), and let’s hope the veil, the funk, the lowdown blues evaporate.
Here’s to it, Bob! Every time we cross the stream, that hellhound loses our scent for a time! Thanks, and have a great holiday!
Really enjoy how you interwove the disparate strands of your story. I wouldn’t normally think of blues music, fishing, and a presidential election as ingredients in a winning story, but you made it work. Love that harmonica too!
Glad to hear that you see how it weaves together, Mark, especially since you’re a guy who knows how to write and play music so well. Thanks, and have a great holiday!
A splendid post! Thanks for leading the way on remembering how to make some sense and find a little peace. Yeah, there are many with the blues, but how well you used the blues to fight the blues – great video down at the end there. Your salmon and sky shots are spectacular.
Wonderful, Walt, and much appreciated.
May you know the blues to fight the blues, yourself, PC. Thank you, as always, and hope you have a peaceful and fulfilling week! I’m glad you liked the video, too.
Sounds like you had a great time! Sometimes our wives know just what we need. Boy the weather really took a turn Saturday into Sunday didn’t it! We were in the 60’s, sunny and warm on Saturday and then in the low 40’s with winds and snow on Sunday. Nice to see you found some action after waiting it out.
Thanks to wife and landlocked salmon and the blues, it was a good time, and you’re right about a wife’s intuition! Thanks Mark, and a happy Thanksgiving to you.
I like a person who has a tad of renaissance about him. I think you fit the mold perfectly Walt. Your wife deserves many kudos for such a dragging to a grand theater. This, and all the while balanced with escapes to the great outdoors. Walt, you live a rich life! If I were looking down from that bridge while you were landing that fish, I would be clapping. Moments all rolled up into one sometimes pass us bye. They pass quickly and then there gone. Thank-you for sharing, it was a wonderful read Walt. I think you left us all envious…
JZ, I’d say we all have a tad of renaissance within us, if only we let it rise and shine once in a while, but thanks, man, I love your comment! And you’re right, those moments “rolled up into one” are all too fleeting, so we need to hang onto them when we can. I appreciate your thoughts and wish you a happy holiday with friends and family and trout!
Music has a way of getting through to us in a way that almost nothing else can. Not even fishing. I’m fortunate enough to be surrounded by good music, musicians and even to be able to see my two year old slowly developing the kind of love for music that will either lead to a lifelong obsession or a life on the road, following blues trail from coast to coast and back again. Fortunately, she seems equally obsessed with fishing 🙂
Fortunate, indeed, Douglas. Good music and good family, with prospects of good fishing on the waters up ahead just can’t be beat. Thanks for commenting, and have a great holiday!
That’s fantastic Walt. Sounds like you and the wife had a GREAT time. Clemons Center is a beautiful venue. I saw Big Head Todd and the Monsters with Hootie and the Blowfish, and then on a different trip, BB King, Buddy Guy and about 5 other great blues artists about 10 years ago at Big Flats. Also after four hours of fishing w/flies in failure and turning it around to a successful day of Salmon fishing. I happen to love Blues music. Think I’ll listen to some Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Lightning Hopkins, or maybe go back further and listen to some folk blues, like Leadbelly. Awesome blog with some equally awesome photos bro.
Doug, I’m glad for yet another good connect here with you, and specifically with the blues music scene. Yeah I remember well a visit to Tags with my son to hear BB King. Gotta love the blues and support it while we can. There’s a lot to be learned and enjoyed. Thanks much, my friend, and have a “quality” experience with those close by as the holiday approaches!
Fantastic blues sound, reminds me of the King of Blues, BB, had the opportunity to see him in person in the Mississippi Delta years ago. So good to be back with you guys!!
Glad you’re back with us, and sounding good, Bill, and on the wings of the blues. Looking forward to catching up with you!
Happy Thanksgiving Walt and may the turkey on your line be well stuffed. After that it’s all gravy my friend. I do want to make mention one other thing, thanks you very much for the blog. It takes time and energy to produce. Your work here is appreciated and it comes from the heart. Your calling card is the resource Walt. It is wild, wonderful and always beautiful these places you share. Your haunts, where ever they lead, are also fragile. Development, environmental damage and plain ignorance can ruin pristine lands. You deserve thanks for shining a light on how special these mountains and valleys are. I will raise a silent toast to you with a cold Troegs in hand later…😄
Thanks so much, JZ. I appreciate what you do for fishing and for your input on our beautiful streams, the trout, and the environment in general, as well as here on the blog. It’s for people like yourself and for others who have an interest in participating in the big outdoors that I do this work, with pleasure. And it allows me to meet great individuals like yourself, if only via the internet, and to be energized by kindred spirits. I am thankful for your readership and for your thoughts. Be well, enjoy this holiday and the upcoming season. I will raise a 40 Mile IPA, brewed locally here, near Charlottesville, VA and the Blue Ridge Mountains, in your name, JZ.
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Always loving and enjoying your word plays. I’ve been on a hike or two where I thought I wasn’t gonna make it back to where I started because of getting lost and another from running out of day light. I’ll be sending you an email soon to get A Rivertop Journal.
Thanks much, Rommel. Glad you’re getting out and hiking and, even if uncertain of “getting back before dark,” chalking it up to experience. I appreciate your words and support!