My touring schedule this year has been like a dream... avoiding the cold with a Winter Tour of the South, spending the Spring playing New Orleans and beaches across the Gulf, then a month of beach gigs up the East Coast, and now capping off the end of Summer with a few mountain top gigs and another two weeks of beach gigs. Oh, and I got to tour the scenic wilderness of the upper Great Lakes in between.
The end-of-Summer tour kicked off with an outdoor show on a glorious day at Sierra Nevada's compound near Asheville. One of my favorite breweries, in one of my favorite places, on a gorgeous holiday weekend, some family on hand... and this time I brought Django, my 3 yearold, 100 lb boxer. Just exactly perfect... but it was only going to get better. From here we headed to one of my favorite breweries in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Georgia, and then it was two weeks of beach time, starting in Charleston, SC, and working north from there... playing a combination of new breweries, favorite breweries I'd previously played, some clubs just for a change of pace, and eating at some of my favorite seafood joints (and hopefully discovering new ones) along the way. And lots of beach time. This was Django's first trip to the coast, he loves to swim, so I couldn't wait to show him the ocean. My son Brad was also aboard for the run, so I had good company with the same passion for seafood and the beach, and he fronts his own band (Freak Mythology) so we'd maybe even play some music together.
Grumpy Old Men Brewing - Blue Ridge, GA
The beers are distributed in cans throughout the Tennessee/Georgia region currently, but wider distribution is coming soon. Kegs are also tapped in other establishments, Retail can sales are also available at the taproom.
Played: 1/11/2019, 9/1/19
The morning after Sierra Nevada we poked around our rather nice hotel for a little while, ate a little breakfast, and then headed south through the mountains for Grumpy Old Men Brewing in Blue Ridge, Georgia. Our trek would be a beautiful drive on small mountain roads through little mountain towns, no interstates or the homogenized version of McAmerica they expose you to. It was a little more than a two hour drive, so we arrived with plenty of time to find a park and let Django run out some of his energy after all the car time. Django usually pouts when I'm packing for a tour, as he did this time... but this time he didn't know he was actually coming with me until literally the last minute before we climbed into the van. He's been ecstatic ever since... boxers are a bit clingly, this dog never leaves my side, so to be on the road was a big deal for him... he loves going for rides, he loves the van (both the co-captain's chair up front and the big bed in the back), and then the mountain and beach adventures he didn't even know were ahead of him.
We ran Django for a good hour or so at the park in hopes that he'd be pretty tired during the gig at the brewery, and that was more or less successful. When we arrived at Grumpy Old Men the first thing I noticed was that they had added a sizable patio area out front, and with it being a rather hot sunny day the patio was packed with folks taking advantage of the shade and cold beer. Inside was pretty much as I remembered it, and the air conditioning felt good, so we decided to play inside.
I don't know if it's the mountains or the beer or what, but Grumpy Old Men's crowd is one of the most engaged I've ever played to. The first time I played here there was just instantly a great rapport with the audience, lots of singing along, a fair amount of joking around between songs, and as soon as the show was over people were asking when I'd be back. Since then I frequently get messages online from folks asking when I'll be back to Grumpy Old Men... and the vibe was exactly the same right off the bat this time. I'm not even sure whether much of the crowd was the same, I tend to think they weren't, but once again they were just tuned into what I was playing, and by the end of each set we had a nice sing-along working. On this particular day the second set had to be shorter than usual, as they were closing up early it being a Sunday, but that second set had folks singing along straight through. It makes it so much more fun for everyone when we all just let go and ride the music, and that's what happened here... again. That's a very special thing, and it doesn't just happen everywhere.
As for the beers.... well, first I must admit that it was a Sunday afternoon, and a somewhat abbreviated show, so I only had a few. If you follow these blogs you might remember that the first time I played here I was hesitant to try their Choco Blonco (6.5%) white chocolate wheat... but I did, and I liked it. Of course you remember that... who are we kidding here? So anyway, I started out with another one of those, because I was kinda craving it based on my memory of the last one. And it was delicious. As I told you before, I dont normally like white chocolate (in fact, I don't even understand white chocolate.... it isn't really chocolate to begin with...), but man that flavor just for whatever reason mixes right in with the wheat, delivering somewhat (but not too) sweet touch, a somewhat bready wheat drink, and yet some extra body and creaminess. It is one interesting beer, and I don't know if Grumpy takes their beers to competitions, but if so I'd be bringing this one.
The Stay Puffy (6.3%) marshmallow stout was exactly as good as you'd think it would be. Five years ago a marshmallow stout would have sounded a bit ridiculous... these days they not only sound good, but the few I've tasted have all been really well executed. This one was just as excellent as I expected... a nice creamy stout with robust stout flavor, and then here's this hint of marshmallow that adds just exactly that level of magic that they add to hot chocolate on a frigid winter's day. What a treat!
Something that I always like to see is a brewery giving back to the community, and on this day I noticed that Grumpy had an IPA called Hoppy Habitat (5.0%), where they donated $5 from every purchase to Habitat For Humanity. Nice job, folks!
My other two drinks were the Scentsation (8.0%) double IPA, and the GrassHoppa (8.0%) Imperial IPA. Thats right folks... two muscular 8% IPAs... probably the other reason I only had a few, it suddenly occurs to me...
Scentsation, as the name might indicate, is a highly hopped double IPA carrying a heavily hopped aroma... you can smell this one coming across the bar... not the one to serve your friend who drinks Coors Light and is afraid of real beer, but quite delicious if you like a nice hoppy brew yourself. It's not shy, but it's not ridiculously overly hopped, either. Robust and bold, but totally drinkable.
GrassHoppa is an imperial IPA for people who really like IPAs, and might make lesser men cry. Loaded up with hops, but also balanced out with tons of grains, this one pours as a golden amber, pretty thick head that sticks around, and a bold somewhat bitter start, a little smoother in the middle, with elements of citrusy lime and melon in there, and then wrapping up with a bit more of the bitter. It's the kind of bold IPA that might take a few sips to get used to, but then you do get used to it and enjoy it for the bold drink that it is... but also get reminded towards the end of the pint that it is an 8%er!
I didn't get to see Kristie or meet the Mister this time as they were out at a beer related event, but the staff was very friendly, knowledgeable and helpful, and all in all it was another great visit at Grumpy Old Men. This is a brewery (and town) that I frequently pontificate about, and I'm always surprised that more people aren't aware of this jewel up in the mountains and the fun that awaits here. Only about 2.5 hours south of Asheville, and not terribly far from Atlanta, I'd be coming here all the time! Hopefully I'll be back again, maybe in the Spring!
From here the plan was to head East and be at the beach in Charleston, SC the next day. We had a couple of days open, so we planned to hit a few beaches with the dog, hit one of my all time favorite seafood joints near Charleston, hopefully find a few others, and just have a bunch of fun until my next gig on Thursday.
Being a little tired we decided to find a hotel room, get a good rest, do the drive in the morning, and have the afternoon and evening to enjoy the beach. This was cool with me, as I'm also addicted to much of the Sunday night HBO lineup, especially Succession. We grabbed some dinner, found a reasonable room about an half hour from Blue Ridge, and it was at this point that a giant wrench was thrown into the machinery.
Hurricane Dorian, which had been stalled over the Bahamas and by every damn model was supposed to hit and cross over Florida was now suddenly, according to some new damn models, going to head up the East Coast later in the week. Not in time to ruin our initial beach days, but in plenty of time to cancel the rest of the week's gigs. I've lived on the coast, and I've lived through hurricanes, and I knew that models can change with <ehem> the wind. So maybe it would still cross over Florida, or maybe it would head up the coast and ruin the first half of this tour, or maybe it would head further to the east, head back out to sea, and just give us a few days of rain. Nobody knew, and so here we were on Labor Day, suddenly not knowing if we should continue on to the coast, stay put for a few days, or just go home and hope for the best the following week. Heading home was about an 8 hour drive, plus the 15 or so hours driving back to the beach when the weather cleared, so that didn't sound like a good plan given the uncertainty. Heading to the beach in a tour van for shitty weather and then a possible evacuation didn't sound like much fun either, especially with the dog with us (although we did enjoy the thought of the adventure of weathering out a tropical storm in the van, with Django). We decided to sleep on it and see what the models said in the morning.
We were in the Chattahoochie National Forest, and realized the next day that we were just minutes from the start of the Appalachian Trail. We decided to camp in the mountains for a day or to and see what the hurricane did, so we decided to camp at Amicalola Falls, which was on the top of a mountain, looking right at the start of the Trail. I found it amusing that there is also an “approach trail” you can hike to get to the Trail... which is only 8.5 miles straight up a mountain, so you can then arrive at the REAL start of the Trail, and then head out on your 2000 mile hike through mountain terrain to Maine. These people are crazy...
Not being new to camping, we quickly realized we hadn't planned to camp in the mountains, and needed to put some thought into what we might need. We knew there were plenty of bears in the area, but didn't bring any weaponry adequate to protect us from an angry bear. Furthermore, we didn't know whether Django would be apt to keep bears and mountain lions away, or if he would intrigue them. At the very least, we thought, we should get some bear mace, so we headed into an outfitter's shop in town.
Brad ran into the the shop while I stayed with Django. About 20 minutes later he returned, and said the first lady he talked to wasn't helpful, said they were out of bear mace, but suggested he just use regular pepper spray, which they did have. Now, the special thing about bear mace is that you can spray it from far away... whereas normal pepper spray you spray from close up... so not very useful unless you plan on hand-to-hand combat with the bear. Additionally, bear mace really just temporarily blinds the bear so you have a few minutes head start on your run.... and then you might have to deal with an extra angry, irritated bear.
Brad spotted a local man dressed in camo, looking at ammo, and figured he'd be more help. He explained we were passing through, decided to camp for a few days, and were trying to decide what we'd need for the area. The guy's first answer was, based on where we were heading, he wouldn't go in with anything less than a .45. He then explained that the area was the most densely populated bear territory in all of Georgia, but they weren't particularly dangerous or agitated this time of year. What we really needed to worry about, he claimed, was the heavy population of wild boars, as the trees were dropping their acorns and the boars would be very territorial. He pointed at a stuffed boar's head up on the wall and said “you see those nasty horns and those sharp teeth? That aint even a big boar.” We discussed purchasing a firearm, but quickly decided against it, and instead decided we'd find spot where we could sleep in the van, and would just be very careful about not leaving our food or trash where it might attract problems. That's what we did, and it worked out just fine.
It was amazing, being in Georgia, that the weather was so exceptional, and the sky so perfectly clear, to think that just one state away this monster storm that they were still hyping as a CAT 5 was lurking. That said, we'd been in this rodeo before, and the storm eventually became a CAT 2, but ya know the Weather Channel needs it's ratings and advertising dollars just like everyone else... so string 'em along! Nothing new had developed throughout Monday (could go either way... don't turn the channel!), so we stayed another night and enjoyed the wilderness again on Tuesday. The stars, by the way, were pretty amazing this far removed from any city effect lighting. It wasn't so much that they were so bright (like they were the following week in the mostly-empty Outer Banks), but that you could see so many of them. The first night I think we stayed up til about 4am, just watching the stars and fire, and drinking whiskey. The second night I think we crashed by 2am, doing the same, but just a bit more tired. On Monday I checked with the venue in Wilmington, NC that I was supposed to play on Thursday, and at that time they planned to be open.... by Tuesday afternoon they had called me and said they were coastal areas were told to evacuate, to so it looked like they wouldn't open Thursday. A short while later I got a message from a venue in the Outer Banks, saying they ordered a mandatory evacuation... so the rest of my week was officially tanked. The evacuations would not only shut down the coastal towns, but cause a flood of traffic heading inland, so our decision became pretty clear: on Wednesday we'd head home, see how bad the storm damage was over the weekend, and hopefully head back to the beach on Sunday, as we had not only the following weeks shows, but also had planned to pick my other son Drew up at the airport in Norfolk on Monday morning so he could join the fun of the last week of the tour.
Having gotten where we were in the mountains of western Georgia via mountain roads down from North Carolina, we were quite a ways from any major highways, and the first few hours of the drive home would be on back roads through the mountains and foothills of western Georgia and eastern Tennessee, until we'd finally jump back on I-75 somewhere near the Knoxville/Chattanooga area. Brad had caught some sort of bug and wasn't feeling well for the last day or so, so I did the driving. Not being terribly familiar with this area, I basically just followed the GPS and headed north.
To give perspective to those in other parts of the country, if you've seen the film Deliverance, that is the area of backwoods Georgia/Tennessee wilderness that I was passing through. Gorgeous scenery, but where deep rural South meets Appalachia, where little churches might be Southern Baptists, or they might be snake handlers. Where some family trees don't have many branches... or they might actually be wreaths. Where the wounds are still fresh from the Civil War, and a “yankee” is often less than welcome.
I actually lived in such an area very briefly as a child, which believe it or not works it's way quite unexpectedly into this trip's story. When I was in 4th grade I had lived my entire life in New York City, and my dad took a job with an engineering firm that moved us to a little town called Cleveland, Tennessee. Being straight out of New York City in the mid 70s, complete with New Yawka accents, didn't make us very welcomed in Cleveland. Being a dry area, it also didn't make it a very popular place for my dad, either. And perhaps the only thing they like less about us being yankees from New York City was the fact that my mom, being an Irish Catholic, dragged us to the region's only Catholic Church. In the buckle of the Bible belt, you might as well be black if you're a Catholic. People tend to forget this, but the Klan hates Catholics about as much as they hate blacks and Jews. They never taught me that in the parochial schools of New York, but I learned it quickly in the public schools of eastern Tennessee.
Now, as they didn't much like us and we didn't particularly care for them, we were only there for a year and then we, thankfully, got the hell back to civilization. However, a year was long enough to have made this the setting of a key moment in my life and personal development, that being the day that I decided that religion, and Catholicism in particular, was bullshit and not for me. I still remember the day clearly, and what now strikes me as funny is that it was just an honest, innocent exchange on my behalf, but the reaction it drew is what made me then question their whole schtick. As I was no longer in a parochial school, my good Irish Catholic mother made sure I at least made it to Sunday School each week, and ironically that's where it all ended for me.
On this particular Sunday I guess the afterlife and eternal salvation was the topic, as the Sunday School teacher asked me if I still had all my grandparents. I told her I had a dead grandfather, and she said “so he's in Heaven”, and I replied “I guess.” She did a double-take and sneered back “what do you mean “you guess”???” I said “he died before I was born. I never met him. So I guess he's in Heaven, but I don't know.” At this point this evil shrew jumped up and hovered above me, grabbed me by the arms and yelled in her Sourthern accent “Boy, what in THE HELL is wrong with you??? Of course he's in Heaven! Shame on you! What is wrong with you?!?!?”
I remember for a minute I was so humiliated and thought I was going to cry in front of the class, and then I remember a feeling wash over me where I felt angry and I thought “you asked me a question I don't know the answer to, so I answered as honestly as I could. YOU are the one pretending you know something you really don't... what the hell is wrong with YOU???”, and that was that. I knew from that moment on that I wasn't going to buy snake oil from anyone trying to push false knowledge on me, and that I didn't like the game they were playing with my head at all. I ended up going back to Catholic schools, but I never bought into the story. In high school, after moving again, I went from a public high school to an all-boys Catholic school, and once again, on the first day of class, I dared raise a question in religion class and was branded right then and there “the Pagan” by the priest teaching the class...because I dared to think for myself and raised a question. (NOTE: for the record, I don't have any problems with personal spiritualism, etc.... I'm just turned off by the institutional Group Think religions use to control the masses. And of course the institutional protection of child rapists by this one in particular just makes it that much easier to stay away...)
So what is the connection with this tour's story? Well, I was supposed to be on the East Coast, and instead found myself quite randomly in perhaps the most isolated and remote part of Georgia, due solely to a hurricane sweeping in and ruining my plans. On my way home I have no choice but to take two-lane rural roads for several hours through nothing but wilderness just to get to the nearest highway, my route being completely random to me... it was just where my GPS told to me to go... and suddenly I find myself at an intersection in a small town I lived in 40 years earlier, when I was in 4th grade, in the middle of nowhere, in a neighboring state (Tennessee). It looks familiar to me, and I suddenly realize that the church I spoke of above is to my right, and the house I lived in is straight up the hill to my left, probably not more than a couple of hundred yards away. Out of 3.8 million square miles of land in the U.S., I just completely randomly arrive at an intersection mere yards from a place I briefly lived in the middle of nowhere 40 years ago... and a spot that was pivotal in shaping my life's view of religion and spiritualism. How bizarre is that???
Anyway, it's not like it was some earth-shattering thing, it just seemed like a really weird coincidence, considering how off the map I was, and how random and unexpected my even being in the region on that day was.
The rest of the trip home was easy, and we got some good rest before heading back east for the last week of the tour. Of course the storm barely touched the Outer Banks and Virginia, so were back onsite by Monday morning, the area looked untouched other than some minor flooding in certain areas, the weather was awesome, the surf was incredible, and the food and shows were great and tons of fun. Those stops will be covered in the next couple of blogs.
Next Stop: the Outer Banks and coastal Virginia.