A Texas Trip
The sun is just a faint suggestion on the horizon when I pull into Johny Broomdust’s dirt driveway off Agua Fria the Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, but he and his fellow Caravanistas -- Felicia Ford (vocals), Justin Lindsey (guitar), Greg B. (fiddle and guitar), Freddy Lopez (harmonica) and Braden Anderson (drums), filling in for David Waldrop -- are already scurrying around like worker ants, loading amps and instruments into Justin’s trailer.
Despite the name, this is the Broomdust Caravan’s first road trip, and the destination for the country-Americana group’s maiden voyage is, of course, Texas. Specifically, Alpine, Texas, not far from the border. In about 15 hours, Broomdust and his crew are to take the stage at Railroad Blues, where Felicia played years before with her old band, Hundred Year Flood.
Consisting of a Prius (mine) and Volvo (Johny’s), our little caravan may not exactly scream rock ‘n’ roll, but the band is excited to export its sunny brand of country/rock/Americana beyond New Mexico’s borders. As we head south down Route 285, the pinon-juniper landscape of northern New Mexico gives way to expansive mesquite flats and the occasional pronghorn, grazing along the roadway. The wide-open spaces of the dun-colored plains have a way of widening one’s headspace, allowing thoughts to surface like a mirage, and the conversation turns from music to men to memories as the miles go by. At one point, Felicia gives me an impromptu voice lesson (“it’s all about the vowels,” she says) as Justin, who had a gig with his own band, the Strange, the night before, catches up on sleep in the back seat.
In Roswell, we make a quick stop at the local music store, which as it turns out has liquidated much of its coolest inventory but still carries alien-head guitar picks. I buy a couple of those and Felicia grabs a girlie pick for Justin, who’s still slumbering in the back of the Prius. “He’s gonna love this,” she says, admiring the impossibly curvaceous figure etched into the black plastic.
Finally, several hours later, after a brief, unintentional detour in Carlsbad, which we unanimously blame on poor signage, we eventually cross into Texas, although without the “Welcome to Texas” sign, you wouldn’t be able to tell, except for the yucca starting to rise from the vast desert plain. We get to Alpine just as the sun is setting behind the mountains, and a strange haze gives a surreal feel to our arrival. We can’t decide if the haze is due to a weather-related phenomenon or pollution, and in the end we conclude we’d rather not know and just enjoy the mystery.
We have just enough time for a Tex-Mex dinner (what, no red or green chile?) before the band has to go set up at Railroad Blues. The bar, on the sprawling town’s western edge, looks like something out of "Urban Cowboy," with blue lights strung across the facade and a mish-mash of cowboy kitch decorating the inside. The walls are crammed with signs advertising Lone Star Ale and Budweiser, signed photos of bands that have played here over the years (Del Castillo, the Derailers, Guy Forsyth, Asleep at the Wheel), a framed cover of the Texas Monthly magazine featuring a photo of former governor Ann Richards on a motorcycle and dressed in white leather (“White Hot Mama”), and a stuffed deer’s head. Three blow-up aliens peek over from the loft above, and below them, in the corner, a dolled-up mannequin, dressed all in white and looking simultaneously angelic and seductive, sits in a chair suspended from the ceiling just to the right of the stage. Near the bar, which offers a nice range of beers on tap and in bottles, a couple of veladoras -- Mexican religious candles -- sit atop the fireplace, near a sign that says “NO PUBLIC DRUNKENNESS.” Watching the cowboys, hunters (still wearing camouflage) and college kids wander in, with the former two hitting the bar and the latter heading for the pool room in the back, it starts to sink in: We’re in Texas!
At 10 o’clock, the band climbs the steps onto the generously sized stage, and the sound guy/emcee gives them a warm Texas introduction: “It’s a beautiful night, there’s a nice bonfire going outside, and we’re happy to have these folks from Santa Fe in the house ... Please welcome the Broomdust Caravan!!”
It takes the band, still tired from the road, a few songs to warm up, but once they do, they hit an infectious groove that inspires some of the cowboys and even a hunter or two to hit the dance floor in front of the stage. “You can play your ukelele, we’ll sit out on the porch, I’ll play my guitar,” Johny sings while slapping his stand-up base on “Road to Vallecitos,” one of his original songs.
“It feels surreal,” Justin says during the break.
But it’s another Johnny -- Cash -- that really gets the crowd’s behinds shimmying, and half-way through the second set a dog appears and starts dancing with his master, a young guy in a big white cowboy hat.
“Johnny Cash! That’s the shit!” one cowboy yells out.
They also appear to dig Felicia’s rocker “Twenty-five Cents,” featuring a chooglin’ harmonica solo from Freddy, and Justin turns in an inspired, stuccato-studded guitar solo on “Leave This Long-Haired Country Boy Alone.”
After the band leaves the stage, the cowboy with the dog comes over and kindly introduces his yellow lab to Johny. “What do you think of this guy, Bud?” he asks the dog. “I’m trying to teach him to attack musicians,” he tells Johny.
Luckily, Bud doesn’t seem to be a fast learner, and Johny leaves the Railroad Blues unscathed and with a promise of another gig in April. And with that, blissed-out but tired, the band retreats to their hotel rooms, able to rest assured that the Caravan’s first venture beyond the Land of Enchantment was a Texas-sized success.
Article images by April Reese
Homepage Feature Photo by Anne Staveley