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Bayou Seco's Rolling Postcard, spring 2007:

Our "Rural Touring Scheme"

Oh, to be in England now that spring is here! Fortunately for us, Bayou Seco is.

By Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler

Editor's note: Readers who've come to look forward to our annual "rolling postcard" from Silver City's traveling musicians, Bayou Seco, are in for a treat. Jeanie McLerie and Ken Keppeler have hit the road early this year, and send us this bonus springtime "postcard."

We're on the road again, watching it all roll by. Ahhh, England in spring, daffodills and crocuses blooming everywhere—in the motorway medians, along ancient Yorkshire dry stone walls, in the postage-stamp-size front gardens of London flats, in all sorts of vacant lots and even on top of old trash heaps at the back of farmsteads. They make a decent substitute for the sunshine, which is at best intermittent. The blustery, cloud-racing days are exciting to us, very different from the juniper-pollen-laced spring winds that we left behind.

Bayou Seco's Jeanie McLerie in-between gigs in England.

We revisited the Castlerigg Stone Circle just southwest of Keswick in Cumbria. It is a fantastic 5,000-year-old circle—100 feet in diameter, 38 stones, with gorgeous views in all directions of the dramatic mountains and valleys of the Lake District. Keats talks about this spot in "Hyperion": "A dismal cirque of Druid stones upon a forlorn moor, When the chill rain begins at shut of eve. In dull November, and their chancel vault, the Heaven itself, is blinded throughout the night." Our stop coincided with a fierce little hailstorm, stinging our faces and hands. We could feel the ancients' presence.

Cumbria is the place where William Wordsworth and Samuel Coleridge penned many of their famous poems, accounting for some of the windy and wild aspects of their work. On a brighter day than this, Wordsworth and his sister, in April 1802, came upon a "host of golden daffodils, beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze." Of course, today I think the little flowers would have been doing a lot more than fluttering. Most Americans envision England as a land of gentle, grass-covered hills, but this area has some amazing peaks and some quite challenging climbing and hiking, including snow-covered crags at times.

We are on a month's tour of what is called a "Rural Touring Scheme." It is mostly funded by the Arts Councils and Borough Councils in Cumbria, Shropshire and Devon. But we started out in Northhamptonshire at a small town festival, and went back to London to do a few gigs there, and went up the east side of the country to Cromer in Norfolk and Hartlepool in Northumberland. Crossing from east to west in the narrow part of the North Yorkshire dales, we were over on the west coast in just a few hours. We have played in churches, pubs and village halls as well as done some dance and singing workshops with children, and a few concerts for that age group as well. Our agent said it was going to be "isolated areas," but she rephrased to "underserved," realizing full well we know "isolated" doesn't really exist here.

Yes it costs about $60-$70 to fill up our little Ford Focus wagon with diesel, but one tank lasts for days, since everything is so close together. I have fun knitting on several different projects and navigating, while Ken does the hard work of all the driving. I think about all my fellow knitters down at Yada Yada Yarn as I see field after field of lovely wooly sheep—more than 4 million ramble the hills here.

We were lucky enough to go to an English "dance tune session" at the Horseshoe Pub at the London Bridge tube stop. It happens only on the first Sunday of the month. There were at least 15 melodeons and concertinas going at full tilt when we arrived with our fiddles. Within the hour the session had at least 35 musicians, including a serpentine horn and a tuba. The age span was vast—from a couple of very young sisters playing flutes and pennywhistles, to at least a dozen senior citizens, and everything in between. The session was in a side room off the main barroom. The bartender was playing hip-hop on his sound system in there, and it was weird to go in there to get a pint, and hear the clash of the two styles. There were only two people drinking in there and they didn't seem to mind at all.

We spend our time off checking out the charity shops for good stuff. Ken found an almost brand-new Harris tweed jacket for three pounds. I found a nice lambswool Fair Isle-style Shetland vest, and a quarter-pint-sized pewter glass-bottomed mug. We also love to poke around local museums—a Roman one and a maritime one in Maryport near Carlisle. We went to a smaller 51-stone circle in south Cumbria, Swinside, just in from Ravenglass high up on the Bootle Fell in a farmer's field behind huge stone walls. The sheep wander in and out among the stones, their heavy fleeces shielding them from the gale-force winds that prevailed the afternoon we went.

Our concert weaves together a story of heirloom songs and tunes that we have learned from our musical mentors and friends in New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Louisiana. Billy the Kid comes back alive: "The sun's rising up in Silver City, it shines on my dear old mother's grave. But there's some crazy people who want to dig up our bones, just to compare our DNA." With the Cajun French version of the old English classic, "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Foot," the hugamania pleasures of cowboys agitating their shanks at a "High-Toned Dance" and "Out on the Plains," where alfalfa and sage sigh themselves into sleep and the buttes loom up suddenly, startling and steep, we paint a vivid soundscape of our beloved home in Silver City and beyond. As Antonia Apodaca's song says so aptly, "Ay Nuevo Mexico, que te quiero tanto. Con tu lindas flores, con tu lindas gentes, eres tierra del encanto." Verdad!

Jeanie and Ken


Bayou Seco promises a "Rolling Postcard Concert" in Silver City some time in late summer, at which they will sing the songs, play the tunes and tell the stories as they "over there," with (they hope) a slide show of some of the amazing sights they have seen. In the meantime, Bayou Seco celebrates their homecoming on April 21 with a performance at High Desert Brewing Company, 1102 W. Hadley in Las Cruces, 8-11 p.m. For more on Bayou Seco, see www.bayouseco.com.


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