Don’t Follow

I am in the Walsmith’s guest bedroom on Ashby Street in Beaverdale, Iowa. The house is silent save for the ceiling fan whirling overhead, and a bird chirping just outside the window.

I am some 1014 miles west of New York City, in a quiet neighborhood just northwest of Des Moines. I am barnstorming the Midwest this week, rocking through Des Moines, Waterloo, Iowa City, Cedar Falls, Naperville, and Kansas City. My host is Nadas front man and Authentic Records co-founder Jason Walsmith.

I woke to the sound of thunder this morning, scrambled in my boxer shorts to my rental car to close the windows, then sat up in bed reading articles about Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy, and other alt-country heroes in Harp Magazine.

Taking the time zones into account yesterday was a 23-hour day. There is music everywhere here: reference the day’s frenzied activities below. It is seeping out of my skin already, as is evident from the song I just wrote, “Long Way Down.” Of course, it’ll have to be on the new record.

6AM – My car service driver is facing east and listening to his morning prayers. I smile, and relish the contrast to where I’m headed: Des Moines, Iowa.

8:13AM – American Airlines flight #3902 takes off. I fall asleep.

11:03AM – I wake up in Des Moines, IA. The airport is roughly the size of my high school, and shares a similar aesthetic.

11:24AM – The Alamo car rental guy asks me, “So how are things in New York?” I don’t really know how to answer him.

12:32PM – I visit the Iowa State Historical Society. There’s a huge mammoth on display in the entrance. It was found in a farmer’s field in… Wisconsin. I learn that the state was founded in 1846, traded away from the Chippewa, Winnebago, and Sioux Indians for $800,000 a year. Also, Glenn Miller was born and raised in Clarinda, Iowa.

1:28PM – I walk into ZZZ Records on Locust Street and discover that record store clerks are the same all over the country: too cool for school. I buy two local records, Like Knives and The Poison Control Center, and a black ZZZ Records T-shirt.

2:11PM – I call Jason. “We’re about 20 minutes out of Des Moines,” he says. “I’m just a little hung over, though. We saved you some Templeton Rye. Like my friend Tug says, ‘It doesn’t get you drunk, but it does make you crazy.'”

2:11PM – I call my father from the steps of the State Capital. “Last time I was there,” he says, “Was 1963. I was a state senator at Hawkeye Boys State.”

3:12PM – Jason calls. The Nadas are loading in down the street.

3:22PM – I park in front of the band’s bus. It’s huge and gray, like Moby Dick. The placard in the front window reads “Meat Loaf.” The band is setting up in an amphitheater in front of the Des Moines River.

3:37PM – I consume my first but surely not last pork tenderloin sandwich.

5:33PM – Sound check wraps. I follow Jason to his home in Beaverdale. He’s a rock star, but drives a Toyota Land Cruiser, and lives in a three bedroom house filled with children’s toys on a tree-lined street.

6:17PM – Jason, Stephanie, Mitchell (their two-year-old son) and I pick up Mike and head back to the venue. Jason and Mike point out local points of interest. “I once saw a burning pickup truck there,” Mike says.

7:01PM – I hang in the green room (second floor of the Des Moines Embassy Sweets) with The Nadas, family and friends. I sneak a few beers and cold cuts, play with Mitchell.

7:42PM – I listen to Josh Davis perform “Don’t Follow” for the first time tonight. Nadas bassist Jon Locker (who’s co-producing my “Heartland” recording) sent me the song in demo form weeks ago. I love the song.

10:42PM – Jason’s wife Stephanie performs “Water In The Fuel” with the band. I immediately begin to plot a way to get her on my forthcoming album.

12:52PM – “Hey Ben, you notice that smell?” Jason asks. “Is it the meat packing plant?” Stephanie inquires. “No, it’s the slaughterhouse,” Jason answers. “Where in hell am I?” I ask.

1:01AM – Outlaw Family Band perform at Walnut Taps, the oldest bar in Des Moines. I sit down next to a toothless octogenarian in a white T-shirt and jeans. He has a teardrop tattooed underneath his right eye. “Doesn’t that mean he’s killed someone?” I ask.

1:44AM – Within three minutes of arriving at AK O¹Conner¹s, Mike throws his arms around me and says, “Ben, I’m totally drunk.” Ten minutes later he’s on stage performing with Josh Davis, who plays “Don’t Follow” for the second time tonight. I still love the song. Jason and Stephanie join the ad hoc band and perform a blistering “Me & Bobby McGee.” I can barely keep my head upright.

2:51AM – Back home, Jason microwaves taquitos. Stephanie snacks on cherry tomatoes. I take two Advil.

2:56AM – I fall into bed.

It’s 12:52 now. The Walsmiths have just gotten home … from lunch. Time to start my Sunday.

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