As you drive north of Salt Lake City on I-15 the country gets very beautiful and increasingly spectacular. At Idaho Falls you leave the Interstate and cut across the Teton Pass on a smaller road towards Jackson, Wyoming. This road follows the course of the Snake River for much of the way, then climbs into the Tetons and finally reveals the awesome sight of Jackson Hole, a huge sunken arena surrounded by Rockies on most sides.
J, B. and I encountered this sight in the late afternoon of our second day on the road, as Bob Dylan was singing The Girl From the Red River Shore on the iPod playing through my vehicle's sound system. Bob's voice seemed to emanate from the mountains themselves, as old as time, as old as the heartache the song records.
We found John Carney's house — new since we'd visited him last in 2002 — in the little village of Wilson, which is a few miles from Jackson itself. It's a lovely, small house that John designed, cozy and gracious with a rustic elegance that suits the landscape well, as his buildings always do.
A few folks had already arrived from other distant places — Hilmar Blumberg from Texas, Eli Dokson from Colorado, and Hugh McCarten (above) from Brooklyn. Like J. B. and myself, these are all guys who first met John at Stanford in the 60s. Another Stanford veteran, Cotty Chubb (below), arrived soon after us, from Los Angeles, with his daughter Corinne in tow — though perhaps it would be more correct to say that Corinne had Cotty in tow. She tried so hard to get him to behave during our time in Wyoming — with results that can only be described as “mixed”.
I've known Corinne since she was a few days old but hadn't seen her in several years and almost didn't recognize her, because somehow she's become a lovely young woman of 19, which still doesn't seem quite possible — but when she smiled, everything was clear again.
Who could forget that smile?
John, Hugh, Eli and J. B. are all musicians, among other things, and played together in various groups while in college and afterwards. At gatherings of this crowd, music is the center of attention, and the lads were soon rehearsing some songs they'd be playing at a local hootenanny the next night.
J. B., a screenwriter who hadn't been writing much music in recent years, arrived with two new songs, which he started teaching his mates. One of them, a country waltz called “Dance”, is astonishing. He was, I'm told, a stern bandmaster, but it paid off when the songs were performed tightly and crisply at the hootenanny, where they went over big with the local crowd.
We new arrivals checked in to the hotel we were staying at in Jackson, then headed back to John's place. John made us a dinner of marinated flank steak cooked on the grill, with an Insalata Caprese prepared by his daughter Ella (in the picture below, with the author) and a broccoli dish whipped up by Cotty. A great deal of alcohol was consumed in the course of the meal. Afterwards the guys picked up their instruments again and jammed away on the old songs they've always played together, originals and covers . . . songs that for all of us, I think, knit the years together in a magical way.
Corinne had brought her tiny Flip HD camcorder and filmed many of the numbers that night — you can see a couple of them on YouTube:
“Rolly Polly (Daddy's Little Fatty)” (a Bob Wills number)
“Bring It With You When You Come (Girl Of Mine)” (an old blues)
The Wyoming rendezvous was off to a rousing start.
[All photos except the first one and the last one are by Eli Dokson, which is why you can see Eli in the first one, wailing away on his axe between Corinne and Hugh. Nobody wails away on an axe like Eli. The last photo is by Hugh McCarten.]