Tour ‘15 began accidentally. My mother was celebrating her 90th birthday, and the Francis clan wanted to celebrate. The original idea was for relatives to convene in Galveston, Texas, but the idea of flying so many people in Colorado to Houston soon became cost prohibitive, and it was decided that the reunion would now take place in Colorado. I knew I wanted to go, and I wanted people to hear The Pod, so we figured that we just make a tour of it and play at several places.

Our first stop was at The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. We started out at 6:30 in the morning from Austin and traveled across Big Sky Country and Big Windmill Country and arrived in the parking lot of the Big Texan around 3:30 PM. We settled into the room they provided for us. The room itself was very nice, if you like faux cowboy design–delightfully kitsch. Every room is painted a different color on the outside, and it gave the entire hotel sort of a covered in birthday-cake frosting look.

As part of remuneration, we got a free dinner at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Unfortunately, neither of us were very hungry. I ordered a chicken fried steak sandwich, and Johnny ordered the barbecued ribs. I ate the salad, and the rest of it went into a doggie bag which became my breakfast the next morning. Just before we played in the tented outdoor area that was their bar, the heavens opened up and we got a good old-fashioned Texas Frog Strangler –it came down hard. Nevertheless, the show had to go on, so we played to a diverse, but modest crowd that had decided to brave the elements. Between the sound of the rain on the canvas, and the gigantic movie fans that they had blowing in our direction, we had to turn up pretty loud just to be heard.

The owner of the Big Texas Steak Ranch, Bobby Lee (I thought that was his first name – you know, Bobby Lee Carruthers or something, but that’s it – first and last – Bobby Lee) turned out to be a great guy. We shared a couple of truly delicious beers with him and the Brew Meister, Eric. Bobby and I ended up jamming a little bit as he is a guitarist as well. Afterwards, we exchanged T-shirts. We got a couple of Big Texan Steak Ranch beer shirts, and we gave Bobby Lee and Eric Pod shirts.

The next day we made the long trip to Deer Trail, Colorado. My sister lives there, and they found us a place to play at the Brown Derby restaurant. Deer Trail is just a wide spot on the interstate. It has made the news lately because they have issued $10 permits to shoot down drones. Johnny and I ate at the local pizza place which was next door to the Brown Derby restaurant. Johnny was worried about our equipment in his Silverado, but the owner of the pizza place told us not to worry as everybody in town probably carried a gun.

The Brown Derby restaurant is a saloon in the classic sense. The only thing it was lacking was swinging doors. The music room itself, must have been quite a thing in its day. There are pool tables, and a big wooden floor for dancing. I don’t think we were quite what they were expecting, or wanted, but they listened and tipped us. This is the first time we’ve ever been tipped where every bill in the tip jar was a $20 bill. Okay, there were only four bills but still, there were only about twelve people there. So not bad at all. As you know, Johnny and I do this primarily for the adventure and for the chance to meet new people, not for the money; no reason to suck all the joy out of playing. We met a guy who had a trained dog that seem to have a bit of Australian sheep dog in him. He wore a red bandanna around his neck and sat on the bar stools with his owner. Everybody loved the dog.

The following day, we went to Colorado Springs, Colorado. There, we played for The Colorado Springs Cycling Club in Cheyenne Canyon. Lots of expensive bicycles, and lots of shiny pants with yellow jerseys. Again we were greeted with a downpour, and again we were under a tent. I guess a lot of people liked us; so much so that it looks like we may be playing there again next year. We had another first with the tips; we actually had a guy make change in our tip jar! Johnny said this was akin to making change in the offering plate at church.

The next three days we spent in Littleton, Colorado and stayed with Johnny’s friend, Jan. We ended up rehearsing with one of her friends, and it turned into a little jam session as she sang along. Jan was a very gracious host. I was also able to connect with several of my old friends in Littleton. We haven’t seen each other in about 30 years, so it was with veiled mockery that we said we haven’t changed a bit.

On Thursday, we traveled up to Breckenridge and settled in at the Wyndham Mountain River Lodge. And true to their name, a river ran right outside the window. That night, we ostensibly "played" at the Barkley ballroom. This, was not a good experience. A true dive bar. The walls were black, the floor was black, the ceiling was black, the teenybopper audience was dressed in black and it was just black. Bleak and black. We were to warm up for a group called the Deltaz, which were a three-piece rhythm and blues band. We got there plenty early, but the other group got precedent with setting up for sound. We got about 10 minutes to set up and do sound check. Of course, everything went wrong. My Godin guitar’s battery died, and of course that’s the last thing you look for when you don’t have sound. So we ended up with about 15 minutes of showtime before the Deltaz’s played. The owner of the bar, Todd, was essentially useless. He was also the soundman. We played one song, the guitar died again, and I just stood up and walked off the stage. Fortunately, they had a good band that followed us, and was more to the liking of the 18 to 25 age group that was there. Johnny and I were very frustrated, but we just chalked it up to experience. Not every gig is going to be great, and it’s the lousy ones that you remember – they make the best stories, anyway. Oh I don’t know, I really just want to forget about this one.

Saturday, we played for the whole Francis family reunion at the Wyndham Mountain River Lodge bar and lounge that was run by Bubba, a jovial mountain-bearded specimen. My family showed up along with others at the bar, and we had a great time. My cousin, Lauren, joined us for a couple of songs. She has a great voice, and she has a great attitude. Not to be outdone by Lauren’s svelte dancing, my 90-year-old mother got up on the table and danced. No kidding, I have the pictures.

The next day we had our reunion finale at a park where Johnny and I sang hymns on Sunday morning for my mother and the others gathered there. We played "It Will Be Worth It All When We See Christ" "Because He Lives" and "Till We Meet Again." Then we went our separate ways: Johnny to Lone Tree, Colorado to visit his friend, Dennis, and me to my brother’ s house in Colorado Springs. The next day, Johnny picked up me and my son, Tim, and we made the long journey to Lubbock, Texas. We went south on Interstate 25 to Pueblo and into New Mexico. We missed a turn, and finally turned left, after adding an hour to the trip, and took the desolate but beautiful drive from Springer, New Mexico to Clayton, which straddles the New Mexico and Texas state lines. Tim said this was the best part of the trip. The wind was blowing like crazy, and there were thunderstorms in the area that gave us a great light show. We saw a lonesome coyote and antelope playing. No roaming buffalo though. The cattle were bedded down with their haunches facing the stiff wind. In long stretches like that, people don’t say much. They look out the window and get lost in thoughts. That of course, is one of the most valuable parts of a road trip. No cell phones, no texting, no TV – just private ruminations and reverie. We kept driving to Lubbock, and along the way we passed the great windmill farms of Northwest Texas. At one point we were presented with an ethereal view of a setting sun silhouetting the huge spinning blades, like robotic planted flowers in a row. These windmill farms consist of hundreds of giant windmills that cost $5-8 million each. The giant thunderclouds gave a light show all the way to Lubbock, and following the GPS, we found our hotel there. The next day was a long drive back to dry, 100° Austin, and we missed the cool mountain temperatures of Breckenridge and Colorado.

Like all trips, it’s great to get out, but it’s also great to get back home. In the end, we traveled a total of 2,400 miles, played our music to lots of appreciative folks, met people, and reconnected with others. And of course, made more lifetime memories.

Make a free website with Yola