Julytime Ramblings (2017 Edition)

Choices. I’ve been thinking about choices lately. Mrs. Hoke and I recently-ish returned from our annual trip to Texas where we attended The Kerrville Folk Festival for the I-don’t-know-how-many-th-time. Those of you who’ve been reading this thing for a while know that we go to hear music, yes, but also (mostly) to hang with friends we love and don’t see nearly often enough. We also play a fair bit of music ourselves (with those same friends we love and don’t see nearly often enough). It’s a long drive. Yes it is. This year we paused in Texarkana at an Air B-n-B and found a thank you note on the wall from another musician friend who had stayed in the same room the week previous as she made her way from Nashville to Kerrville. (Not that many Air B-n-B options in Texarkana, I suppose. Or: while it may not actually be a small world after all Texarkana is in fact a small town despite being spread across three states.) We had a delicious supper at Pecan Point Brewing Company and then went for a walk after supper. Texarkana has a very photogenic downtown if you like towns on the fade. I do. For photographs, anyhow. For instance:

So. Choices. I reckon the choice to go to The Kerrville Folk Festival again was mostly instinctual. Come June, we go to The Kerrville Folk Festival to recharge and reconnect and wallow in the bosom of the community we’ve become a part of over the years. We missed one year a while back and I was out of sorts until we rolled through the gates again. This is true. But, choices? We chose to take the longer route through Dallas and Fort Worth because there’s a near-mythical barbecue joint—Cooper’s in Llano—that we like to stop at for a late lunch and the drive south from Llano to Kerrville through the Texas Hill Country is so very lovely. Every time. So we do that despite it adding miles and hours to our trip. Because the journey itself is part of the point, not just the arrival at the destination—yes? That’s how I like to travel, anyhow, and thankfully Mrs. Hoke goes along with my preferences. In this area, at least.

The Kerrville Folk Festival is held a ways out of town on The Quiet Valley Ranch and this year I chose to get up and drive into Kerrville to run along the Guadalupe River several mornings. Because I’ve done it before, sure, but also because there’s a prime swimming hole right in the middle of Kerrville and being able to cool off post-run by jumping in a swimming hole isn’t something I get to do nearly enough and I discovered this year that the city of Kerrville has extended its walking/biking/running path along the Guadalupe so I was able to get some decent miles in on the days I drove into town. (Added bonus: some of the best breakfast tacos anywhere are available at Mary’s Tacos in Kerrville. They make the tortillas. They fill the tortillas with your order. They give you the taco. You eat the taco. Life suddenly makes sense again. Magical.) So to stitch the whole thing together: Run. Swim. Taco. If that combo right there doesn’t kickstart the day a body should give up and watch daytime television.

A few years ago my friend Sandy Buller and I started hauling chairs into the “main theater” and we sit and smoke cigars while the music unfolds before us. One year there was a young lady doing some fancy hula hooping behind us and Sandy talked her into doing her hooping in front of us for one song thereby making a plenty good enough thing even more better. This year there was a young lady behind us that was dancing with some scarf things and Mrs. Hoke caught some of that magic on video:

This is the sort of thing we wouldn’t necessarily catch if we were down in the “real seats.” Choices. See? Also very much worth mentioning that my friend Sandy Buller chooses to stage a 4th of July parade through his town—Pattison, Texas—and he and his family have filmed it a bunch of times. Here’s the footage from this year's parade:

Three years ago Mother Hoke asked me what I wanted for my 45th birthday and I thought about a story Sister Hoke told me once about how on one of my single-digit birthdays I donned a cape and we went to an ice cream shop and I strolled right in with my cape a-fluttering to place my order. I think I wore a cape more often than that, really, but that’s the time she told me about. So I told Mother Hoke I’d like a cape, please. A blue one. With a “T” on it. She made it, of course, and I like to wear it at The Kerrville Folk Festival when I run around the ranch on those days I rise too late to drive into Kerrville (only once this year, actually). No surprise: folks enjoy the novelty of a guy running around in a cape. I might try it at home some time. Probably not. Too weird for our little town, I think. I should probably wear it on my birthday, though. At least to go get a birthday scoop somewhere or other. Yes.

Mrs. Hoke attended the “Ukulele School” at the festival and hosted a very fun song circle for folks in the school (and other ukulele playing friends) one night at our camp while I played bartender and made rum drinks for whoever wanted one (or two…or three…). A bunch of good-natured folks sipping rum drinks and playing ukulele is a mighty good time--try it for yourself and let me know how it goes. And one finds oneself wondering if there exists any bad-natured ukulele players. Yes? No? I doubt it.

Do you care about which acts we really liked at the festival? (Those of you shaking your head “no” should skip ahead while those of you nodding “yes” should read on.) Chris Chandler—poet and raiser of rabble—gave a solid performance one night at The Threadgill Theater (the smaller campground stage). Meanwhile, over on the big stage, we loved The Stray Birds (on tour right now and sounding great—catch them if you can), George Ensle (wonderful human that I’m proud to call friend—we co-wrote a song a year or two ago that we’ll get around to recording sometime or other [that's George in the photo below]), and completely new to us Melissa Greener (bought her latest album and listened to it all the way to Austin—or Mrs. Hoke did because I was sleeping in the passenger seat).

I don’t remember what time it was when Mrs. Hoke finally put the car in park in Rich and Nancy’s driveway so let’s just settle on “quite late.” Rich woke up when we carried a few necessaries in from the car and gave me a hug and pointed out the beer and guacamole in the fridge and the blue corn tortilla chips on the table and then he went back to bed. I don’t know if that guacamole was in the fridge for me but I was very happy it was there.

Morningtime at Rich and Nancy’s: good coffee and lively conversation spiked with laughter. We used to live a few blocks away from Rich and Nancy so my morning run took me up and down familiar streets to see what had changed and what had remained untouched by time and/or progress. On a typical visit to Austin we laze and lollygag our mornings away at Rich and Nancy’s, but on this trip we had but one day to drink in all of Austin. So…

  • We had a slamdunk delicious lunch at Quality Seafood. I love that joint and so do Rich and Nancy so that makes it even more better.
  • We had ice cream at Amy’s.
  • We had a lovely visit with our friend Kerry Polk. (I’ve been playing one of Kerry’s songs—“Blue Neon”—for a couple of years now so you might maybe have heard me do it. I played it one night at the festival and Mrs. Hoke pointed her phonecameragadget at me while I did it:
  • We met up with friends for supper and drinks at El Mercado while enjoying “Mystery Monday” (hosted by Christine Albert—her guests this particular week were Shake Russell and Michael Hearne and the music was wonderful).
  • We ended our Monday in Austin as we typically do: at Donn’s Depot. This particular night Danny Britt, Chip Dolan, and Marvin Dykhuis were subbing for Chris Gage and Danny was kind enough to invite me up for a song or two and loaned me his guitar. Here’s a video Mrs. Hoke recorded of us playing Gretchen Peters’ song (which I learned from Jimmy LaFave) “Revival.”

The next day everyone got up and exercised a bit—aware of the excess from the day/night before. Calories be gone!  Or something like that. On our last visit Mrs. Hoke recorded Rich and I playing Townes Van Zandt’s “White Freightliner Blues” while wearing our pajamas. Or pyjamas if that’s how you were brought up. This trip we decided to sit in the front yard in our sweaty exercise garb (I did change my shirt) and played Darden Smith’s “2 Dollar Novels.” Check it out:

Mrs. Hoke and I then loaded up the car and drove south to Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ where we picked up a few tacos and went to hang out for a bit with our friend Jenny Reynolds and her wonderdog Oakley. (Jenny’s coming through our neck of the nation soon and we’ll be swapping songs a couple of times at Southern Appalachian Brewery. August 9th and September 6th. 6-8pm on both nights. No songs repeated at the second show. Really. Come if you can—Jenny’s wonderful.) We ate. We talked. We hugged. We left for Conroe before the traffic got bad. Here's a photo of Jenny offering me good advice that I've already forgotten (Because you can sure enough lead a horse to water but just you try to get that horse to fold laundry. Can’t do it. Or something like that.):

I like backroads. And side roads. And such. There’s a lovely road—The La Bahia Scenic Highway—that covers a portion of the drive from Austin to Conroe (my hometown and where we were driving to visit with Father and Mother Hoke). There are some rolling pastoral views, sure enough, but mostly it just feels slower and I’m not talking MPH when I say “slower.” The journey is part of the point, remember? I try to remember. I try. (Cue James Taylor’s “Secret O’ Life”…) Our first night in Conroe was low key and laid back and that suited us just fine. Mother Hoke did some cooking. We watched something dumb on the television. We went to bed early.

The next morning I rose early—set my alarm, even—because I was going for a run at Sam Houston State Park and wanted to beat the muggy East Texas summer heat. The park sits about 30 minutes from the old homeplace and in addition to towering pine trees and marshy bogs it includes a lake—Lake Raven—so I was once more able to cap off a run with a refreshing swim. It’s almost enough to make a man desirous of a swimming pool of his very own. Almost. There’s a “raft” in Lake Raven’s swimming area and I amused myself with a few dives that were undoubtedly less fluid and graceful than I imagined. Oh well. The buzzards didn’t care. And—by the way—there were a lot of buzzards on/around the beach and circling overhead. I lay on the raft for a bit and watched them turn and whirl in the pale morning sky.

On Thursday we drove down to Houston to pick up Sister Hoke from the airport and then we went to Xochi for delicious cocktails and luncheons. Hugo Ortega is a chef in Houston whose eponymous restaurant—Hugo’s—is one of my favorite spots to dine when we’re in/near Houston and Father Hoke had read an article about Ortega opening this new joint so we dropped in to give it a test-dine and damn it was tasty. They focus on “the flavors of Oaxaca” and that means mole (mo-lay) and mescal and I love both so again: damn it was tasty! We’ll be returning next visit, for sure. And if you happen to be reading these words somewhere near to Houston do your tastebuds a favor and take them to Xochi. You’re welcome.

From Houston we drove to a couple of cemeteries. Typical, right? We only had this one day to visit with Sister Hoke and I wanted to go freshen the flowers on the graves of my grandparents and Sister Hoke said she’d like to do that too so there we went. When I was a kid I remember lots of trips out to County Line Cemetery with Granny (maternal grandmother) to freshen the arrangement on her husband’s grave (never met him—he died well before I arrived on the scene). Anyway—whenever I’m in Conroe visiting the cemeteries and freshening the flowers is on my list of things to do. Every time. So we did that. Here are a couple of photos for those of you who like photos of cemeteries like I do:

On our way back to the homestead we dropped in on Uncle Knox and Aunt Ruby (Ruby being one of Mother Hoke’s siblings and Knox being her husband). Uncle Knox and Aunt Ruby taught Mrs. Hoke how to play 42 back when we got married. Hell, they probably taught me—I can’t remember. I’ve eaten countless meals at their home over the years. Knox manning the pit as the brisket smoked or the burgers grilled. Ruby boiling two fatty hens to make dressing at Thanksgiving and Christmas because canned broth is lazy. (I’m not sure we ever had turkey on those holidays, but I know we always ate those hens alongside the dressing they’d flavored so perfectly.) We chatted about their kids and their grandkids and their great-grandkids. We talked about what Sister Hoke’s up to, what Mrs. Hoke’s up to, and what I’m up to. And we ruminated on the nature of horses and how—yes—you can sure enough lead a horse to water but just you try to get that horse to fold laundry. Can’t do it. Or something like that.

Back at the homestead Mother Hoke put together supper while I concocted Palomas for all Hokes. (If you’ve never had a Paloma: 1 part tequila + 2 parts grapefruit soda + lime garnish = Paloma.) We ate supper. We might have watched a sportsballing event on the television. We went to bed early.

The next morning—early—Mrs. Hoke and I drove to Montgomery, Alabama. We started pausing in Montgomery on our treks home from Conroe a few years ago because of a great restaurant (The A & P Social) and because there’s stuff to do in Montgomery. The Hank Williams Museum, for one. The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, for two. The Civil Rights Museum, for three. And other things I’m not remembering as I type this. I booked us into a great Air B-n-B (holler at me if you want the link though you’ll find it if you look—it stands above the other offerings in/around Montgomery) and our hosts pointed us towards Leroy’s Lounge for cocktails and yes and yes and YES. When we walked into Leroy’s I read the list of draft beers on the board and was impressed. I looked over their very well-stocked bar and was pleased. I eventually noticed their absinthe fountain and got excited. Sometime or other I am buying an absinthe fountain for Chez Hoke. It is deeply relaxing to watch the ice water slowly—drip by drip—eat away at a sugar cube and drop into the glass and swirl together with the absinthe and create a drink worthy of the equipment and ritual. Yum. Here is a very short video of Leroy's absinthe fountain in action. Better in person. Trust me on this.

Added bonus: Leroy’s Lounge has ambience to spare. As evidenced by this photo right here. But it's better in person. Trust me on this also.

The next morning we got up early-ish and I went for a run around Montgomery. I trotted past Hank and Audrey’s graves and tipped my hat and hummed a few bars of “I Saw The Light.” I ran all over Oakwood Cemetery. I did a loop around the state capitol. I jogged back to our room. And we showered. And we drove home. And we got back to our daily dayjobbing and whatnotting. But trips like this fuel the memorybank with smiles. Lucky us. Lucky, lucky us. But—yeah—this is what we chose to do with our time.

Hrm. Choices. Yeah. One last thing: I attended Sam Houston Elementary School way back in the back when and I remember as a wee little Todd standing on the front steps to the school and how the boys—wee little Todd included—would try to impress one another by jumping off the steps. I never got my nerve up enough way back in the back when to jump all the way from the topmost step but guess what:


Thanks for reading this thing. Thatisall.


Brad C Dienst July 31, 2017 @05:56 pm
Todd, A warm 'n sweet, comprehensively considered Power Nostalgia piece. Inspiring. Thanks for sharing, brother, Brad
Joanna July 31, 2017 @05:41 pm
You jumped in flip-flops! Crazy kid. :-)
Joanne Holladay July 31, 2017 @11:25 am
Thanks Todd for sharing your adventures in Texas. When I'm in the midst of the summer Texas blahs, you help remind me of all the good to be found in this state if we just keep our eyes open and have an appetite for life. Thanks!
Jaime Michaels July 31, 2017 @01:00 am
Fine piece o' writin' Pretty sure I'm not a robot ...
Charles Keefer July 30, 2017 @10:09 pm
Nice lines, good flow, fleshed out info and stuff, yes especially stuff, thanks Todd
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