The mist was gentle as our plane dipped through the clouds to reveal my favorite city in the U.S., Ketchikan, Alaska. Moisture of one kind or another is just something to be dealt with in Ketchikan. Being on the inside passage, water makes up a large part of the environment. The airport sits on an island just offshore requiring a short ferry ride to the mainland. If you remember your political history, that is where they were going to build the infamous “bridge to nowhere” a few years back. Personally, I enjoy the ferry ride.
Art lives in Ketchikan. That is the motto of Alaska’s fifth largest city with a population of just under fourteen thousand people. Upon our arrival, visitors are met by a beautiful life-sized sculpture called “The Rock”. It depicts the people of Ketchikan. A Logger, a fisherman, a miner, a bush pilot, a frontier woman, a Native drummer, and Chief Johnson, a Tinglit Native who stands atop the sculpture. “The Rock” was created by Sculptor David Rubin and his collaborators Terry Pyle and Judy Rubin.
Brewer & Shipley had been on an Alaskan tour many times with our friends, the Bellamy Brothers. For once I had Jan with me and, being the last show and in my favorite city, we decided to stay for a few days. Jan and I were going to spend our vacation days in a historic hotel on the waterfront, The New York Hotel, which had a wonderful little Irish bar-restaurant “O’Brien’s.”
After a long day of traveling it was time for dinner and several glasses of wine. So we headed downstairs to O’Brien’s. It was night time and Alaskans were being Alaskans. A group of musicians playing all kinds of instruments was the evening’s entertainment. I particularly liked the guitar player and introduced myself to him during a break. He recognized me from the posters and introduced himself as Dave Rubin. At that point, he was just a fellow whose music I liked. I had no idea he was the artist responsible for “The Rock” which had met us upon our arrival.
It didn’t take long for Jan, Dave, and I to become friends. We did some partying including a great dinner on the deck with the folks who managed the hotel. Dave knew everything there was to know about Ketchikan and kept us constantly entertained. That is one of the things I love so much about adventures with little preplanning involved. Things pop up that make a trip much better than you had imagined. I like to think that there is a spirit out there that drops these wonderful surprises on you when you least expect it just because you are doing something out of your regular comfort zone.
During the time we spent with Dave in Ketchikan we learned that he was the sculptor whose work I had been admiring for years. Over time Dave and I have kept in touch. He sent me his CD called “Ketchikan Doc,” Doc being the way I address him these days. He filled me in about a show of his artwork at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. And one night his voice on the telephone was full of excitement. He told me he had been commissioned to do a sculpture of Seward to stand in front of the state capitol in Juneau. Seward, if you remember, was the Secretary of State who set up the purchase of Alaska from Russia.
There is no foundry in Ketchikan for turning molds into bronze so that part of the project had to be done in the lower 48. I’m not exactly sure where but somewhere in New York state. About that same time, Brewer and Shipley would be playing a show at “The Town Crier” in Beacon, N.Y. A very cool town on the upper Hudson River and Pete Seeger’s home town and a special place for me.
Dave was staying with at his mother’s house, I believe on Long Island. So the stars were in perfect alignment. Dave was able to make it up to Beacon for our show and we could do some serious hanging out. Michael could finally meet the artist I had been telling him about for a long time. To say it was a wonderful evening would be selling it short. Dave had become an expert on Seward and I learned more about the assassination of Lincon and the plot surrounding it than I had in my 12 years of public school and 4 years in college.
Michael and I sat in the dressing room after the show while Dave told us about Seward. For his project, he wanted to know more about his subject than simply what he looked like. He told us how Seward, Lincoln’s Secretary of State, was to be assassinated along with Lincoln and Vice President Andrew Johnson. Seward had been in a carriage accident and was laying in bed in a cast of some kind which deflected the assassin’s Bowie knife from piercing his heart, instead injuring his neck and face but saving his life.
Dave added some facial deformation and scar on William Seward’s face. It is there to remind viewers he was also involved in the fateful April 14, 1865, assassination that took Lincoln’s life.
After an evening of fellowship and storytelling, it was time to take Doc to the train station so he could make it back home. A long and wonderful evening with an old friend who showed up in my life quite by accident. So this story is mainly about how people can appear, seemingly out of nowhere, in uncommon places to become one of your good friends.
In all my years traveling around the country making music, I have made a lot of friends. Most of those friendships had to be made in a hurry. Sometimes in the span of a few hours because I was headed to an airport in the morning. So, it was make this person a friend quickly or it wasn’t going to happen. Many of those friendships have lasted years and while we seldom see each other, when we do meet up we generally start where we left off. That is really the only thing I miss about being on the road all the time. Regularly getting an opportunity to spend time with my friends who are scattered across the face of North America.
The trip where we met Doc was at the very end of a long tour that started in Fairbanks so stay tuned for more of the Alaska story…One Toke Tom.