Chasing Music – My Crazy Campervan Adventures in America
By Jan Dale
In 1992 I left my job, rented out my house and went to America where I bought a little campervan with the idea of spending twelve months exploring the country and its music. I had so much fun and so many adventures on the road that I ended up driving 250,000 KM over nearly six years, with visits home to top up my finances! America is filled with wonderful music, extraordinary scenery and welcoming people and I just loved the freedom of the road. It wasn’t all good of course. There were many nasty surprises such as being struck by lightening at the Grand Canyon and numerous vehicle breakdowns.
The greatest thrill of all was being able to hear wonderful music in areas such as Memphis and the Mississippi Delta, Louisiana,Texas, Kentucky and The Appalachians. I learnt so much about different genres and sub genres and was often able to meet and talk with some of the top musicians. Festivals were a huge attraction and included New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival and tons of Bluegrass events. In the course of this I even became obsessed with dancing! My first teacher was an 85 year clogger who had brought his huge rooster to the festival and tied it up to a chair!
After settling back in Australia and starting my own radio show (Southern Style) I was invited by various groups to talk about my travels – the “highs” and the “lows.” People often suggested that I should write a book so I decided to have a go. Drawing on my diaries, photographs and memories, I spent years writing various drafts and gave up many times. Then I had some wonderful encouragement from the filmmaker/broadcaster/writer and journalist Philip Adams who kindly read an early draft. So I determined to go ahead and “Chasing Music” was finally published this year.
The book traces my journeys through 48 U.S. states. I describe extraordinary national parks and historic places and buildings, the local culture I encountered, and the wonderful music I found. I also talk about the everyday details of life on the road, including the precautions I took as a woman travelling alone – often “camping” in rather odd places to save my precious few dollars.
So far the reviews have been good.
“This is a marvellous story and deserves to be read” – Phillip Adams, Award-winning journalist, broadcaster and filmmaker.
“I found your book truly amazing, not only in what you achieved but in the way you have written your story. You took me with you. I felt the stress of hill starts in San Francisco and your troubles with the van. Felt the joy of concerts and meeting new people.” “What an amazing adventure and such resilience.” – Shelah Little, New Zealand
Jan Dale – Chasing Music, My Crazy Campervan Adventures in America
Book Review by Peter Somerville
TN2495-B – $35.45 incl. postage Published in TN152 Nov 22
If the recent travel restrictions have left you with a dose of cabin fever, then ‘Chasing Music’ might be just what the doctor ordered.
Australian author Jan Dale’s book about her years of travel on a shoestring budget through the byways and backroads of north America is an absolute page-turner, and the perfect tonic for both veteran armchair travellers and those of us unwillingly stuck at home.
It is a delight to get to know Jan through her tales.
The book is packed with eye-opening and occasionally hair-raising tales of being struck by lightning, close encounters with bears, and venturing into well-hidden local bars in the back blocks of rural America.
Dale is not only a natural writer with a great turn of phrase, but a truly intrepid traveller.
There’s a little romance and self- discovery along the way, but Dale’s main focus is music, dancing, and learning about the places she visits.
Her not-so-trusty VW van takes her from Texas honky-tonks to the famous Carter Fold, taking in Cajun scenes, African American Gospel revival meetings, the Grand Ole Opry, Mississippi’s delta blues, New Orleans jazz, drum and fife traditions, and the Bluegrass of Kentucky.
Dancing is a gateway to the local social life.
Over the course of her travels, the author becomes proficient in an array of dancing styles from Texas and Cajun two-step to Appalachian flat-footing, and through her dancing meets a host of colourful characters.
It sometimes seems that most of what I hear of America lately is negative, so the stories in this book are a timely reminder that the country’s ordinary people are warm and generous on the whole, and that there is a huge diversity of rich local cultures that differ wildly from state to state and region to region.
My desire to travel there is re-energised!
The book includes some fascinating reading about western legends such as Wild Bill Hickok and the first known African American cowboy, “Deadwood Dick.”
This is a marvellous book, and compulsory reading for anyone interested in intrepid solo travel and the rich heritage and living cultures of American music and dance.
Jan Dale is producer/presenter of the popular radio show Southern Style on PBS FM, Melbourne.