One year ago this week, the last week of July, I was driving through Texas en route to Colorado.
During my trip, I had the great fortune of spending three nights in Austin, where I got to hang out with my good friend, DeDe and her daughter, Heather, and see The Bluebonnets perform live—twice—at two legendary venues. More on those performances in just a few paragraphs. I started writing this post and realized it was going to be about more than great live music. It’s only because of social media that those three nights were so much fun.
DeDe and I had been “virtual” friends for close to 20 years. We’d gotten acquainted online in the early 1990s, via the Go-Go’s fan group on Prodigy. We exchanged memorabilia by snail mail, talked by phone. As the commercialized internet morphed into the “world wide web,” we moved on from Prodigy to other platforms. Some years we exchanged Christmas cards, DeDe shared pictures of her daughters.
The extent of our online friendship waxed and waned, depending mostly on the touring and/or recording status of the Go-Go’s. In the late 90s, I found DeDe on Twisted & Jaded, another Go-Go’s fan board that got its name from a short-term side project of Jane Wiedlin & Charlotte Caffey. The Go-Go’s stayed pretty busy between 1999 and 2002, so I made lots of new friends via T&J. Over the years, I met most of my closest T&J pals at least once at a Go-Go’s concert. But DeDe and I had never managed to make it to the same show. A lot of that has to do with our respective geographic locations. She’s on the West Coast, I’m in the Southeast.
In the spring of 2010, the Go-Go’s announced what was, at the time, supposed to be their final tour. The final two shows of the tour would be in Dallas and Austin, during the week that would be a perfect match for me to drive through on my way to Colorado, where I needed to be in early August, do some sightseeing on the way, and see the Go-Go’s in concert, two last times. The network of long-time fans shared travel plans via T&J, bought concert tickets, purchased airline tickets, booked hotels, etc. I was going to meet quite a few of my T&J friends, including DeDe, at the Texas shows.
Then Jane fell while hiking and messed up her knees. The tour was cancelled, concert ticket refunds issued—and Go-Go’s fans were heartbroken, in part because of the uncertainty of what would come next. (Fortunately, the Go-Go’s are touring this summer to rave reviews and full houses, so we all hope it’s not the end for a while yet, but that’s a topic for another day).
Kathy Valentine, bassist for the Go-Go’s lives in Austin and knew that lots of people had already made travel arrangements. My plans were flexible (I had planned to drive). Some fans were going to be spending their vacations in Texas, with or without the Go-Go’s. So Kathy announced that her band, The Bluebonnets, would play several Texas shows during that week.
I was thrilled—I’d never seen the Bluebonnets live, although I knew their music well and was a big fan. And it once again made sense for me to drive to Colorado and make a vacation out of what would otherwise have been simply a trip to Denver for an academic conference. Driving made lots of sense because I wanted to see my brother and his family in southwestern Colorado. Had I flown, it would have been difficult to squeeze in that visit.
So, at 5 am, July 26, 2010, I set out for Tupelo, Mississippi, the first official stop on my cross-country trip. I paid a visit to the rock-and-roll shrine also known as Elvis’ birthplace. I was too early to do the tour, so I walked around the grounds, took photos, shot some video with my new Flip UltraHD camera (purchased specifically to make it a breeze to shoot and post video during the trip). I cruised down the Natchez Trace for a stretch, stopped off briefly in Natchez to ponder the Mississippi River. Can I just say the drivers between Natchez and Shreveport must be the worst in the world.
I ran into big thunderstorms around Shreveport. The drizzle stayed with me through much of Texas, but I missed the worst of those storms. I was driving straight through to Austin and decided to take the backroads, rather than circle around through Dallas on the interstate. I wanted to see something new. Traffic was light, roads were straight but I got very tired as the sun set on the horizon.
One lesson I learned from the trip is that 800 miles is my absolutely maximum driving distance for a single day. I cruised into Austin around 10:45 pm and managed to drive straight to my hotel, even though my eyes were tired and my brain was dead. I was sound asleep by 11:30 pm.
The Bluebonnets were playing their first Austin show of the week on Tuesday night, July 27, at The Continental Club. We were extra lucky because KV’s friend, legendary drummer extraordinaire, Clem Burke, was drumming for the Bluebonnets that night. Another long-time fan, Ted, drove down from Dallas, so we had a nice little cadre of T&J’ers at The Contiental Club.
The Bluebonnets were on fire that night. They were simply awesome (a word that I don’t particularly like but it’s the best word for the moment).
After the show, KV said lots of hellos, calling us by name. How cool is that? She posed for pictures, chatted with us, and was simply the genuinely nice person she’s always been.
That would have been enough for the evening, but I also got to meet Clem Burke, with whom I’ve had a mad crush on since I discovered Blondie in 1979.
To make an already great week even better, the Bluebonnets did a second Austin show on Thursday evening, July 29, at the Austin landmark, Antone’s. That show was part of a women-in-rock bill and (if my memory is correct) the Bluebonnets kicked off the evening. The band seemed even tighter and more on fire at Antone’s than they had at The Continental Club, if that’s possible. Kristy McInnis, the regular drummer, was on hand for this performance. She’s very, very good. And Eve Monsees is a very talented guitarist, as well.
I can’t rave enough about how much I love seeing The Bluebonnets perform live. So if you’re ever in Austin (or anywhere else) and have a chance to see them perform, don’t miss it. You’ll be served up some of the best bluesy-rock you’ll ever hear. Dominique Davalos is a great bassist and lead singer. But Kathy Valentine has guitar chops that will amaze you.
So anyway, I started writing this post because I was thinking about last summer’s vacation and how much fun I was having during the last week of July. I decided to put something up about The Bluebonnets, but it morphed into a bit more than that.
To bring it back to where I started: Social media provided the linkages that made my three nights in Austin possible. The Internet 1.0 world of Prodigy allowed me to make a friend, DeDe. We maintained that friendship through the evolution of websites and other online forums, email, then Facebook, then Twitter. I met other friends, fellow Go-Go’s fans, through T&J that led to my meeting KV a couple of times before the Austin shows. I found out about The Bluebonnets shows in Austin via KV’s Twitter announcement. After the shows, I uploaded video and pics to YouTube and Flickr and shared them with other fans via my Posterous blog. And those other online-mostly friends and fellow fans got to experience a bit of the two special evenings with The Bluebonnets via these online tools.
I could have traveled through Texas, spent three nights in Austin en route to Colorado, and had a nice vacation without social media. I would never have developed friendships with folks like DeDe, Ted, Jim, Jodi, Joseph, Andy, Harold and so many others without the internet and social media. I would never have met KV the first time because I would not have met Joseph. Without the information resources of Twitter, I probably would not have known about The Bluebonnets shows in Austin early enough to plan my trip to correspond with the dates of their shows.
Whenever someone suggests that Facebook or Twitter is a waste of time and leads to social withdrawal or isolation, I can point to this as one of many examples of the opposite. Social media facilitate the connections and relationships that we can enhance in the real world. And social media open the door to real world experiences that we might otherwise never know about.
Click here for more pictures and links to other video clips from the The Bluebonnets ATX shows on July 27 & July 29, 2010.