I’m breaking a major secret pledge here when I tell you how much I love Lubbock, Texas. The people who get there and “get it” – and love it – are sworn to secrecy to help preserve West Texas’ best kept secret. But I can’t keep secrets worth a damn.
You may remember that about a month ago, I bought a one-way ticket to Lubbock. No one seemed too surprised. Perhaps a pilgrimage to the Hub City is yet another of the things Texas widder women do after a fashionably appropriate amount of time. Or it could have been just another oddity as I stumble along, the kind of action that good friends politely ignore. Someone even thought I had sold my house and was moving there.
No to all of the above. It’s a long story that begins with Kimmie Rhodes and Joe Gracey; and includes Curtis Peoples and the Texas Tech Southwestern Collection and the Crossroads of Music archives; Buddy Holly, Shere Forkner Dickey; Tamara Saviano, Kathleen Hudson, Amy Manor; and winds down with drunk monkeys, a wasp museum and lots of backroads. And most of all, this trip is about Radio Dreams. (I will be posting a longer blog all about Radio Dreams soon, but for now, visit her website for details about the project.)
Kimmie has a new “duet memoir” out that she pieced together, wrote, and edited from journals and notes and letters from her late husband, Joe Gracey, and her own path to right where she wants to be today. The book, Radio Dreams, captures an era of desperate struggles, heartbreak, hungry musicians, amazing talent, dreaming entrepreneurs, and success that is measured as much in happiness as fortune and fame.
Kimmie and I caught up on the Delbert McClinton Sandy Beaches cruise in January. My book about Delbert (Delbert McClinton:One Of The Fortunate Few) had just launched to generous reviews. Her’s was soon to be released. It’s kind of like raising your children together. Our books connected us. She invited me to go out to Lubbock with her, as she was donating some of her archives- journals and scrapbooks, clippings and costumes – a lifetime (so far) of memories – to the Crossroads of Music Collection at Texas Tech.
When I arrived on Wednesday, Dr. Curtis Peoples, director and archivist at the Crossroads of Music Collection, and archive manager Jon Holmes were deeply involved in Kimmie’s story, saving every scrap and snippet of her road to success that began in a little clapboard house on 27th Street in the heart of old Lubbock.
A quick tour of the archives led me through the collected works of The Stamps’ Odis Echols, Jr., and cowboy singer-songwriter Michael Martin Murphey; the Kerrville Folk Festival archives and Texas Heritage Music Foundation collection; the Maines Brothers and Jesse “Guitar” Taylor; and the list is growing every day. Kimmie has delivered two truckloads of treasured memories to the Crossroads, and they are in good hands.
I have been through quite a few archives of this sort, and Curtis and Jon share a passion for this collection that is unmatched. It might have to do with that West Texas hospitality, but there was no doubt that Kimmie’s materials have found a good new home in a working collection at Texas Tech – one of only 115 institutions in the nation designated as a prestigious research university.
We had dinner on Wednesday night with Kathy and Jim Gilbreath, a delightful couple who literally know just about everyone who has ever planted a crop in Texas, and everything about raising funds for the arts and culture in Lubbock and beyond. The dinner was great fun as we learned much about Buddy Holly Hall, a state of the art music and arts facility that will break ground soon.
Curtis and his wife, Amber have an AirB&B that includes two suites – one, attached to their ranch-style home, and the other, my home for the week, a casita in the back yard. Thursday morning, Kimmie and Curtis went to speak to a class, and I stayed back at the casita to tend to some business and catch up by phone with my friend, radio legend Bill Mack. (Watch for more on Bill Mack in an upcoming blog!)
We grabbed some lunch, and then headed back to the archives to identify and mark a few more photos and documents, before heading to the Buddy Holly Center for a little Radio Dreams music and a book signing. Did I mention that Kimmie is an Ambassador for the Buddy Holly Educational Foundation (sharing the honor with a dozen or so people including Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Duane Eddy, Dolly Parton and more). She played her commemorative Buddy Holly guitar, presented by the foundation.
After the Buddy Holly Center event, we jumped in the car and headed for a dinner party at the home of Dean Bella Gerlich (the dean of libraries) and her husband, Grant. But, because there are no straight lines to anything on this trip – we got to swing by Kimmie’s childhood home for a quick trek down memory lane.
The dinner guests included those of us who would be on the panel, “Women and West Texas Music,” on Friday night, and a combination of about twenty really cool “town and gown” folks. Kimmie and I ran into our long-lost soul sister, Shere Forkner Dickey, who promised to take us on the full tour of Lubbock on Friday afternoon.
The next day, we wrapped up the work at the archives, went to lunch with Curtis and Shere, and then we were off on The Big Tour. First stop – the Lubbock Walk of Fame, where we paid homage to Delbert McClinton and Tanya Tucker, Barry Corbin and Buddy Holly, Sonny Curtis, Mac Davis, Waylon Jennings, Bobby Keys, and more.
Then, we rode over to the site of the original Stubb’s Barbecue – now a memorial site with a beautiful sculpture of its namesake, created by homegrown sculptor and Stubbs aficionado, Terry Allen. A born and bred Lubbock girl, Shere took us through the back gate of the cemetery, where we visited Buddy’s grave.
I should insert here that these are traditional Lubbock landmarks, and I was with two of the best sports and tour guides I have ever traveled with.
After the cemetery tour, we went over to MacKenzie Park, where generations of Lubbock kids have lost their innocence. We drove through the American Wind Power Center, where they have every fashion of windmill ever created – even one that looks to be directly from the Netherlands! We continued through the park to Joyland. Now, this looks like every kid’s dream amusement park – circa 1964. Built in 1949, it boasts of exciting Tiltawhirls and Bumper Cars, a Carousel and more.
But alas. Joyland was locked. It was not open for the season yet, so we stood outside the gates and peered in, practically tasting the pounds of cotton candy and miles of funnel cakes that have filled the tummies of generations through the years. But we were Locked Out.
We were not disappointed for long. Shere gunned the engine and made a u-turn out of the parking lot, and we were off to Prairie Dog Town in a cloud of dust. To heck with JoyLand. I hopefully asked, “Will we see any prairie dogs at this time of day?” (About one in the afternoon – the heat of the day). “Of course,” these Lubbock natives both laughed. “Prairie dogs are always out!” And did we ever!
The City of Lubbock has a wall about 30 inches high around a large dirt field. Nothing grows in this little “town” except Prairie Dogs. I later read about them on the City of Lubbock website and it suggests visitors bring carrots or other vegetables to feed the little rodents. They look like tail-less squirrels – and are incredibly playful – dodging one another and chasing around, ducking into the burrows in a critter version of hide and go seek.
The Crossroads of Music archives notwithstanding, this was the most educational part of our trek – as we read the kiosk – and learned that prairie dogs are pretty smart. They are interior designers with multi-roomed dens underground. We learned a lot more but wound up spending most of our time being thoroughly entertained by these West Texas versions of cartoon’s Chip and Dale.
We stopped by the grocery store and drove through miles of cotton fields – (where Kimmie graciously jumped out of the car to pick some real Lubbock cotton for me to take home) and then took a tour of Shere’s beautiful home in the middle of a huge cotton field; with enough time to get back to the house and clean up for the panel discussion to be held that night.
The panel discussion was Women and West Texas Music, sponsored by the Crossroads of Music Collection at Texas Tech University. The locals had mentioned the cultural competition in Lubbock that night, with the opening of a community theatre production, a Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakum concert, and, of course, a televised NCAA Basketball Championship playoff game which the Red Raiders handily won. Yet, we managed to pull a comfortable crowd at the International Cultural Center for this event and book signing, with Kathleen Hudson, Tamara Saviano, Amy Maner, Kimmie and me talking about things we know.
After an evening of fun, we headed over to Shere’s house for the afterparty. Kimmie tried to teach us all to drink Rosé, and we filled up on snacks, warming our spirits with new friends and great stories well into the night before heading back to our casitas for our last night in Lubbock.
Saturday morning we slept in and got the car loaded. Curtis led us to a delightful Mexican food restaurant with a little New Mexican flavor. A good breakfast had us on the road before noon, heading back to Austin on a six hour drive.
Note: Six hours becomes more like nine and a half when you have adventurers in the car. We came home the back way and took several side trips through the residential section of Snyder, the museum district of Ballinger, and the best barbecue joint in Llano. We stopped at a couple of junk and treasure stores, and rolled into Austin at about nine pm.
Lessons from Lubbock: Laughter truly is the best medicine. You would be hard-pressed to find more entertaining traveling partners than Kimmie Rhodes and Shere Forkner Dickey.
It may have been the West Texas wind. It may have been the flatlands. It may have been the company I kept. But I am pretty sure I have not felt that much freedom in a long time.
And I came home
Listening to: “Radio Dreams” by Kimmie Rhodes