Not-So-Super Chikan?

Trip Start Jun 19, 2010
Trip End Sep 01, 2010

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Flag of United States  , Montana
Monday, July 12, 2010

        DAY TWENTY-ONE:  Well, the days have become hyphenate now that we're three weeks in.  It feels, as it always does, that time has unraveled from its typically steady spool, since we’re jamming so many fun and diverse little critters into our dusty days about the S.S. Pearl.  Considering all of the work we had done on the bus, all those months we devoted to it, ignoring our daily routine and the like, it is almost a shame that the days are leaking out of the back door at such a pace, but at the same time, were it a dreadful tumble of time, only then could one consider anything a disappointment, and even in that case, it wouldn’t be.  We still rest our blackened heels on furniture built by our own hands as we nap on a sleeping space designed by our own minds, and even if those features proved to be less comfortable or functional than pre-packaged or preconceived designs, I still prefer the self-satisfaction (because I’m vain like that).            
        The day begins with the intention of waking early from our cushy loft, and continues to begin until that intention goes unfulfilled, and by the time our laundry is laundered and our bags are packed, Jasmine is busy making us crepes filled with chocolate chips, Greek yogurt, marinated berries and bananas.  Before our mouths could be sated by the wonderful aroma produced by the above, our spirits are lifted by the news that Greyson had returned early from his stampede, and would be able to depart with us for Butte with Jasmine in tow.  He makes us some Breakfast Elk Tacos (do you notice a Montanan Meat Theme yet?) to go with the crepes, and even without the shower of hot sauce I rain on my eggy-weggies, everything is going quite well before I’m even awake.

            After a panic that I’d lost my keys, which culminates in the couch cushion, we spend some time bonding with Greyson over his solid musical taste (hipster-meets-cowboy), at which point he burns me a Felice Brother CD and thereby renders himself my friend for life.  Like a gay confidant, I whisper in Jasmine’s ear, "he’s a keeper," with an ensuing giggle party that IS NOT SEXUALLY ORIENTED.  Ahem.

            Our first stop is in Helena, the small and dusty capital, to visit Greyson’s sister-in-law for a quick tipple (she works in a brewery there).  Pearl has a hard time keeping up with the Cowbard Family Truck on the interstate, and I, driving through the rain with non-functioning windshield wipers (I know, Dad, I know), begin to worry about the state of our baby.  We give her a rest on the roadside and keep her below fifty-five, and in no time she’s right and trusty and though we love her regardless, we love her more when she works.  The Blackfoot River Brewery, meanwhile, which was started by Deschutes Brewing Company’s brewmaster when he thought it had gotten too big, is simply paradise, as Greyson’s future sister, Minnie, pours us half-gallon growlers of some of the super beer (the obsidian stout is great, and I really love the cream ale, which, for its smoothness, must be the best blonde-colored beer I’ve ever had) for the killer price of $13 (plus a free 8-ounce sample, and all the taste tests you want)!  Woo indeed.

            I drive on as the guys dip into the growlers, aiming to finish their respective jugs in an hour, and they belt out rock songs in true Irish style.  We eventually arrive in Butte, and park the bus away from the Folk Festival, incidentally in front of a white shack covered in incendiary graffiti and propaganda (as well as the occasional tag of, “Joanie Hearts Poop”), and a drunken Filigree – by now nicknamed Bobby Mango for his ranching prowess and overall rapping skills – spills out of the bus to greet two rounded and mellowed guys who sit cantankerously on their stoop watching us with saliva on their chops.  “Guys, Snake really like hard rock.  Let’s play him some Sabbath!”  He flips Greg off of the storage box and strains at what he thinks is an electric guitar (it’s a mandolin) and strums it belligerently as the rest of us get ready to leave.  Snake comes aboard with a bong made of aluminum cans and tries to sell it as a revolutionary new type of camp stove to “Bobby Mango”; though Bobby curiously remarks on its unavoidable smell of weed, he coos over it and even promises to present it to his dad, who works for the military, as a way to economize military rations.  Snake leads Bobby into the shack to, “show him more,” and we’re all digging his drunken rabbit persona too much to stop it.

            After that dust settles, The Beard wisely decides it best to move Pearl up the street, in between two churches, but when a tweaker emerges from his home screaming – by the way, it seems that one of every three homes in Butte are abandoned – he ultimately moves it in front of a massively eerie, boarded-up St. James Hospital.  The rest of us circle impatiently, wondering what he and Cornbread are up to, and we decide to abandon them and head for the festival, even though it’s in our interest that they’re securely locking up all valuables.  Thanks, guys.

            We get in live for some food – deep-friend polish dogs, pork chop sandwiches, and “ribbon fries” (potatoes cut like a spiral ham, basically chips) – and it’s a while before we even hear music.  We meet up with the rest of the Cowbar Family, who are on their way out, and then move to the first tent to listen to Super Chikan, who was highly recommended listening from numerous sources.

            Super Chikan sucks.  He’s got his novelties – his guitar is made out of a ceiling fan and painted like a melted crayon box, and his mouth is full of gold – and certainly is a cheerful and lively performer, but he’s stuck in the 1-4-5 blues cycle, and for some bizarre reason, concludes every song with his 70s sitcom catchphrase, “Somebody shoot that thang!”  What the fuck are you talking about, Super Chickan, and why do you cluck like so?  Are you actually parodying black people and delta blues?  It just goes to defy the belief that all one needs is talent and enthusiasm to create good music.  No, you also need some dose of credibility or awareness or desire to create instead of retread and parody.  Super Chickan seemed content in giving the overwhelmingly white audience exactly what they wanted: a fun, competent trip through a rich music history while being nothing more threatening than that.  Were I talented or lucky enough to be in the position to tour the world – I remember seeing that he was playing a jazz festival in Vancouver, too, or perhaps Portland – I am sure I’d do whatever I had to, and enjoy myself and my money in the process.  I, nevertheless, do not possess the talent to make that decision, and from this standpoint, I think it’s mostly a deplorable waste of everyone’s time and ear, and being a part of it really soured me on what is becoming the famed “Middle America”.  Looking around at the camo hats and Monster Madness tank tops and incredible mullets and cans of Miller Lite (when local stouts and honey spice ales and Belgian Whites were available for the same price!) made Super Chikan look especially foolish, tragic, and depressing.  Rant done.

            Thankfully, as we leave his tent, we stumble upon an RV site, complete with foldable picnic tables and their eaten accessories and an entire family of musicians, young and old, standing underneath a bare canopy.  When we arrive, a rotund man in a purple shirt (you could see his belly button; he’s an outie) and auto-dimming glasses was leading a vocally dispirited but musically rich folk nugget from the mast.  From there, a grizzly man with his skin hanging from his bones and what seems like a giant basketball stuffed under his shirt picks up the slack with his five-string banjo and a flighty, measured, but reservedly passionate rendition of Pete Seeger’s John Henry, simply calling out, “Meryl,” or, “Dave,” or whomever had their turn come up for a solo on the mandolin, fiddle, twelve-string, etc., and through all of this, all their basic joy and familial harmony, all the modesty and heritage in the music and the musicians, you got the feeling that this was what we were looking for in traveling around the “heart” of America.  Of the entire festival, this “National Folk Festival”, it was the only real “folk” moment of note.

            From there, after the guys grab burrito and a wander, with saxophonists and amateur punk bands and sundry all just playing out in the street for their own bit of busk, with the town’s lights seeming to hover over the town quarry (which notably left the town as the most booming city in the Western United States, even more populated than San Francisco, at the turn of the century) we aim toward meeting up with Jasmine and Grayson, but get tangled up at an Argentine tango show.  With a balding pianist flipping his suit tails back, pounding the keys with great passion, a tall drink of water with slicked hair and a pink suit both playing and hitting his double bass, as well as a husband-wife duo on a sexual and angelic tandem of accordion and cello (not to forget the two tango dancers staring eye-to-eye, cheek-to-cheek, with stark passion and rhythm), it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful show, like smoothed out, instrumental Tom Waits with hefty doses of that Latin amor, and I fall in love again with every beautiful girl in the audience, dreaming of driving down to some beach town, locking passionate eyes with her in the rear-view mirror of my 1964 Austin-Healy, us a pair of criminal lovers on the lam from Buenos Aires police. 

            We finally meet up with the others at the bus and, after playing a couple of songs of our own in the darkened shadow of that dreadfully dead hospital, we take a few slugs of the leftover growlers of stout, and meet Greyson’s brother and friend at the sleaziest bar in town.  It’s too loud to chat, but Shmark buys us a round of Budweiser bottles and a hungover Captain Filigree/Bobby Mango futilely challenges Cornbread to a game of pool while drunken testosteroners belt out Bon Jovi from the karaoke stage.  Curse the day that God made Jon Bon Jovi, I say.

            We move on to a smaller, better bar called The Silver Dollar Saloon, and though there’s a dollar cover charge that I disbelieve (then nearly get pummeled on account of that disbelief), there’s a solid band whose guitarist looks like a cross between Neil Young and Nick Cave, and they play a nice mix of Motown and honky tonk, including a solid Hank Williams cover.  The Beard’s trying to gird up my confidence to talk to a cute, big-eyed girl across the bar, sitting with an ugly, fat girl, but I cower, and while he slips away and I admire the marvelously kitschy décor (which includes a great black velvet Kenny Rogers painting), a lithe girl in a blaze-blue cotton dress glides in the door, onto the dance stage, and doesn’t seem to belong here or anywhere else.  She does the Elaine Benes dance, all awkward and twitchy, and laughs at herself, until some bumby guy in an orange shirt moves in and twirls her an infinite number of times, and as I sip at my Anchor Steam, I again think of who I am, and who I could be.  By the last song I get up and start dancing up a ridiculous storm, and everyone in the bar surrounds me, laughing, except for the girl in the blue dress, who doesn’t seem to notice at all.  Don’t you know that all I do is for you?  I’m officially a creepster.

            The night ends with eight of us crowded together, with Jasmine and Greyson snuggling on the box under my cot.  Jasmine slips out to take a whiz on the lawn, her butt confessedly (and soberly, I might add) in the dark and undefinable air, and upon her return, Shmark is screaming gibberish in his sleep.  When we ask, “what are you talking about, Shmark?”  He responds with more screams in gibberish, so fast that he’s almost unintelligible, and we’re all laughing to slighly frightened tears.  Meanwhile, where’s The Beard?  We haven't seen him in hours; no one knows.  We all fall asleep and leave one door unlocked, hoping that he’ll be in his cot by the time we’re awake.  Okay, then.
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Bob on

You must have been at a different festival, as Super Chikan was the highlight of the National Folk Festival for me and thousands of others. He got the best crowd response of any of the artists that performed there!

nearhelsinki on

Hey Bob, perhaps I was a little harsh on Chikan...I guess it was as much of an assessment of the scene and our collective states of mind as it was of his performance. At the same time, it is rarely a substantive defense, especially musically-speaking, when one sides with the masses. The thousands of crowd-goers could've loved a log of poop for all I'm concerned. Chikan is a good performer with great energy, and he's a good guitarist, but he's also a bit derivative and repetitive, no doubt. The Argentinians were perhaps also derivative, but man, THAT was a great show.

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