My favorite old school radio station, Cruisin’ 1430 AM, streamed out of Denver, is always playing hits from Johnny Rivers, and I love his music, so after a quick search I learned he was scheduled to play in Visalia, California on February 27th. As I checked the map, I noticed that it isn’t too terribly far from Sequoia National Park. Well shoot! That’s a doable drive, right? A weekend of live music and giant trees sounds like fun, so off we go! Decided to make Day One the long trek to Sequoia National Park so that Sunday could be a relatively easy drive back to LA. What I love most about my road trips is being able to drive freely on the open road with my co-pilot Elliott, some good tunes playing on my stereo, taking in all the scenery and not being burdened and annoyed by bumper to bumper traffic as I traverse the city streets getting from Point A to Point B. And that is exactly what I got. Easy breezing through the agricultural fields, orange orchards and small towns of McFarland, Delano, Porterville,Exeter, and on to Lake Kaweah where people were out boating and camping and loving life.
I decided to stop in Three Rivers for some nutritional fuel before heading into the trees and I could NOT have POSSIBLY made a better choice than to stop off at ol’ Buckaroo for some lunch. Equipped with a kitchen housed in a food truck that creates MAGICALLY DELICIOUS organic chow, an open seating area that faces the mountains and a rushing river, blue skies above, flowers and trees in bloom, AND a totally chill dog-friendly vibe. I was one happy clam. I ordered a blueberry basil soda (YUM) and the house-made lemon ricotta pancakes… dear GOD in heaven, these were TOO GOOD for words! I don’t think I will ever forget that whole scenario, so it’s definitely worth mentioning here. After sufficiently stuffing my face, we got back in the car and made our way into the park to meet this General Sherman that I’d heard so much about.
Unfortunately, I am plagued with a propensity for vertigo and motion sickness so I will say that the 18-mile switchback drive from the entrance of Sequoia National Park to the point where General Sherman lives was a completely nauseating and un-fun experience for me… AND I WAS DRIVING. Thankfully, it only took about 45 minutes to get there and I was able to score a parking spot in the very puny adjacent lot, as I was not feeling inspired to take a long hike after that drive, especially knowing that I had to drive back down the same way I came. Fun. Regardless, breathtaking beauty surrounds and the aroma of fresh air in the woods was completely intoxicating. Quite a few people shared my plan to beat the spring and summer crowds on this chilly day, as I even had to wait my turn to take most photos, but well worth every minute. Finally, Elliott and I got to meet the most famous Giant Sequoia, General Sherman in person! The largest known living tree on earth. Whoa. That’s insane. This guy is 275 feet tall, 25 feet around and has had somewhere between 2,300 and 2,700 birthdays, No joke! I wanted to run up to him and give him a great big hug, but unlike the disrespectful group in front of me, I read the signs posted EVERYWHERE that asked people to PLEASE NOT step on the ground near the Giant Sequoias, as it damages their roots. I thought it would most certainly bring me bad karma to do so, therefore I chose to have a few photos taken from farther back which is fine by me if it helps prolong the lives of these bad boys. Being in the presence of such gigantic trees that have been living on this earth for so long was quite a humbling experience. I read somewhere that walking in nature actually changes your brain activity for the better and who could argue with that? While I was not excited to get back in the car for that 18-mile pin curve drive, I felt almost cleansed in a way after making the trek and spending some time amongst these splendidly enormous and ancient plants and was even graced with a waterfall sighting on my way down the mountain.
Fast forward a few hours, after some much needed rest and relaxation at the hotel and I had gained my second wind to go see me some Johnny Rivers! And for the record, downtown Visalia is utterly darling. Eclectic, vintage, quaint and friendly area with boutiques, antique shoppes, restaurants, cafes and the historic Fox Theatre, which was the venue for the show. I am a huge fan of all historic theatres and love seeing live music performed on their stages. Built in 1930 this jewel was built as part of the Fox Theatre chain, where it showed movies for 66 years before closing down. Thanks to local efforts and generous funding, the Fox was restored and reopened in 1999.
Johnny took the stage around 8pm and opened with “Seventh Son”. I will tell you, from note one I thought to myself, “Damn, this guy has still got it!” I bobbed and sang along in my seat with hit after hit, “Tracks of my Tears,” “Mountain of Love,” “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Summer Rain,” a captivating rendition of “House of the Rising Sun,” “Poor Side of Town,” “Route 66,” “Memphis,” and one of the best of the night, “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Blues.” His voice has been remarkably preserved, his guitar playing was raw, adventurous and spot on. Virtually impossible to say anything negative about his performance. I knew every song, except for a cover which I suspected was a Sade original? The guy still rocks it like he’s in his 30’s. Not bad for this 73 year old Louisiana boy.
It was announced that Johnny Rivers would be giving autographs after the show, so I squeezed and weaved my way through the crowd as quickly as possible to get to the merchandise table in order to purchase a CD for Johnny to sign. It was there I met up with Chuck and Debbie, a likely pair of fun loving hooligans who were also in the front of the line for Johnny’s autograph. Debbie and I shared some laughs as we verbally wrestled which one of us would run away with Johnny if he asked, while Chuck acted as referee scoring our insults and comebacks. Highly entertaining. I always dig making new friends on my adventures. And here he comes! Johnny Rivers makes his way to the merch table and Debbie and I are ready to make our move. I give him my CD and say, “My name is Sally,” as he grabs my CD out of my hand while he hastily and carelessly signs the cover and replies, “I don’t do names. If I signed everyone’s names on their CDs I would be here all night,” and hands me back my CD. Well…damn. Really?
So, now it’s Debbie’s turn and she says in her cutest most flirtatious voice, “Johnny are you happily married?” and… no response at all. She repeated her question and again was greeted with crickets as he rushed to hand her back her CD. SNAAAAAP! Wow, could he have been any LESS enthusiastic or friendly with the crowd of people that makes it possible for him to still perform live in front of audiences? I get it, you’re tired or you had a bad day and don’t feel like being chatty, but come on man! Humor us just a little, would you? We left the line and went out front of the theatre to lick our wounded egos and laughed heartily as we realized NEITHER of us would be running away with Johnny Rivers. I told her that’s fine with me, I will stick to my one true love, Tom Selleck, thank you very much. Funny stuff! Great meeting you two and I hope to run into you again somewhere.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show but was admittedly a bit put off by the whole autograph incident, so I will give Johnny an A for his musical performance, and a D for his crotchety personality.
As I walked back to my car, I stopped into this hip little coffee shop called Tazzaria just as they were closing and this adorable young man, Austin explained that they were closing for the night and aren’t open on Sundays. Hearing a brief run down of my efforts to get to the show that night and then getting snubbed by Johnny Rivers himself, and bummed out that I wouldn’t get to try this place out in the morning, Austin went above and beyond cool and not only let me have a cookie but made me a steamed skim milk with sugar free vanilla (on the house!) to go with it. Seriously, I absolutely love cool people. He had no obligation to say anything other than, “Sorry Ma’am, we’re closed,” but instead, took the high road and was super kind and cool to me. Thank you for being you, Austin and I will see you on the flip side! Open road, fresh air, pancakes, trees, good music, cool people and a chocolate chip cookie with milk before turning in for the night. And to quote Ice Cube…I gotta say it was a good day!