All small towns are not created equal. Salida, population 5500 is an amazing little valley town on the Arkansas River in the mountains of Colorado. With it’s proximity to the river and to Monarch, Salida is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts in both summer and winter, charming a wide swath of people with it’s historic downtown section and laid back, vintage-y charm. Ranchers, itinerants and artists of all ages and from all parts of the country have found a home there, some seasonally, some year round. And for yours truly, a trip to Colorado would not be complete without a stop in Salida.
My love for the area happened during the first Gal Holiday tour of Colorado in 2007. Close friends of mine, Rocketship Man Jimmy Descante and his lovely wife, Penelope had just moved to Salida from New Orleans and the timing was perfect on a day off to drop in for a few drinks, a ghost town or two and a hot spring. Pretty much every town we went to on that first tour had me falling in love with it, and then SALIDA. It had everything; amazing restaurants, ambiance, folks and scenery. I knew next time we came back we just had to play a show there!
My idea about what a small town is or isn’t has certainly changed drastically since I was a kid. After my family moved back to the mountains of western Maryland when I was 12, I grew more and more miserable living in a community of closed minded attitudes and narrow acceptance. My mother is an artist and a musician, as well as a very vocal environmentalist, preservationist and organic gardener who raised her children to be free thinking, open minded, conscious members of our global community. That is to say, we often had a hard time fitting in. As is usually the case in Small Town America there were a handful of wonderful people with whom we had much in common and more and more have moved in over the years, slowly changing the face of my hometown. Blame it on teenage angst, but back then I wrongly thought all small towns were the same and I wanted to get away as fast as possible.
That attitude changed when I started to travel on my own, moving down to Fredericksburg, Virginia and then to New Orleans where I learned about and fell in love with Abita Springs, LA. In Abita I had my first real taste of a small town where generational locals and artist transplants from the city actually lived and worked together, tradional and creative types respecting each other and (mostly) getting along. I’m sure John Preble of the UCM (pronounced You-See-‘Um) Museum in Abita would disagree with me and admittedly I have an outsiders point of view. But it’s a great little place and I’m proud to call John my friend and to have spent time in his small town.
Out west people are different though. Maybe it’s the enduring pioneer spirit that permeates, running through the culture like a vein of precious metal. Or maybe it’s the awe inspiring views, or the short growing season or even the harsh climate that helps to foster an attitude of cooperation and good will to man. I don’t know what it is but the people ARE different and it’s been my good fortune to have just gotten back from my third visit to Salida, CO with a plan for a return trip already in the pipeline. Just rest assured that it won’t be in the winter!
We had a marvelous first weekend of our Set Two Tour with Friday and Saturday night shows at The Victoria Tavern during ArtWalk weekend. We got ’em out on the dance floor, Jimmy and Penelope leading the charge and a couple from Texas two stepping both nights. On Sunday we moved over to J and P’s abode from the old whorehouse where The Vic puts up traveling musicians. We hiked up to a waterfall for some eye soothing views, our guitar player, Chris and I snapping tons of photos before heading back for a BBQ. Mucho Tequila, amazing food, pinball, conversation, and many new friends later we fell into deep slumber in the teepee that Jimmy, following up on a childhood dream erected in his yard with help from his “squaw” and his “squaw in law.”
And so I’ll say it again; all small towns are not created equal. It’s just finding the ones where you fit in and that do it for you. So that’s what I’m doing. Traveling around, playing music, making friends and finding those pockets of America where people are nice and being the weirdest person in the room is still okay.