The last day of a very long eight weeks on the road this summer and we are dead tired. The ride from Northern Vermont to Southern Pennsylvania is not a straight line and there are many, many mountains to wind your way through, over and around: a drive that is not very conducive to sleep. It would have been easy to sit around the bus all day and try to preserve energy for the show, but one quick peek out the window was all that was needed to motivate each of us to do some exploring. This town may have one of the oddest names of all the towns and cities that we have played over the years, but it’s also one of the most fascinating and visually striking. This is an old coal mining town (originally called Mauch Chunk) that became the transportation hub for most of the coal that was being pulled out of these mountains in the 19th and early 20th century. It was an extremely wealthy town back then. The town grew about as fast as it could but it was limited by the size of the holler that it is in so rather than sprawling outward it grew up the sides of the hills and buildings were stacked tightly side by side on the streets. By the mid-20th century the bottom had fallen out of the coal industry and the town was broke. Most of the buildings were boarded up and deserted, which was oddly a blessing in disguise. When money began to flow back into this town there was a 100 years worth of untouched architectural gems, lining the streets and adorning the hillsides. The overall impression is of a small Victorian era town that you might stumble on in Europe, with these odd American flourishes thrown in for good measure. The name change came in the early 1950’s when the widow of Oklahoma native Jim Thorpe made a deal with the bankrupt Mauch Chunk to move his body to the town and erect a memorial to “Americas Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” if they would change the name of the town to Jim Thorpe…makes sense, right? The town slowly got back up off the matt (with the same spirit that drove its new namesake) and is now a bustling tourist Mecca. It’s an amazing micro-world and well worth winding your way through the Poconos to check out.
I spent the afternoon on the Lehigh River which flows right through the town. I had lots of fun with the smallmouth bass…it’s a beautiful river and I could spend many days exploring its banks. The gig was in the original Mauch Chunk Opera House, an old vaudeville theater. It is definitely a haunted place, as is much of the town, with a great and mysterious energy. I think we had our best audience tonight (and there have been lots of great audiences on this run), they were loud and boisterous and full of Friday night. We needed them and they came through in a big way. We had a terrific show.
Tomorrow we head home to spend the last couple of weeks of the summer with our families and then the horrible routine of school days starts again. This has been a great little tour. Part of the reason is the area of the country that we’ve covered and the venues that we’ve played, but ultimately it comes down to the audiences and they have been overwhelmingly generous with their energy and enthusiasm. Thank you, thank you, thank you…without you everything in our world stops. There are lots of tour plans for the coming year and we still have the Nomad Series book on its way as well as a vinyl box set so please keep in touch through our website or Facebook page….we hope to see you soon.