The Old MillThe last part of Spring 2006 featured a couple of trips to Damascus, Virginia to perform with Reagan Boggs at The Old Mill Restaurant as she continues to promote her new CD.

The first of these two performances was a primer for Trail Days later in the month and unfortunately, a couple of guys couldn’t make the gig, so we made plans to play the gig without a drummer and Jason would be filling in on acoustic for Greg who had a show with Richard Houser in Bristol.

If you’ve never been to Damascus, VA, it’s kind of like a crossroads. The town is at the foothills of the Jefferson National Forest and the Appalachian Trail passes through the town. In addition to that, the ‘Creeper Trail‘ is a 35 mile bike trail that used to be a railroad line and brought timber down from the forests in the early days. It’s since been converted to one of the region’s favorite biking trails and attracts thousands every week.

You’ll pass a number bike shops with bikers walking around most everywhere and vans loaded with riders to take them to the top of White Top Mountain for a 14 mile downhill trek with a 7 degree grade through the Jefferson National Forest with mountain streams, railroad trestles and a canopy of wild mountain laurels all along the way.

In addition, Damascus is a stop along the Crooked Road Heritage Trail and the Olde Mill is a truly unique mountain outpost that features great live music with bluegrass or Americana on tap each weekend. I remember hearing Tony Trishka a few years back on banjo and have performed in this little music hall that seats no more than 150.

Nevertheless, since Greg wasn’t coming, I managed to be the first one there and unloaded my gear outside the Old Mill in downtown Damascus. I lit a cigar on the back porch and a 20something biker came rolling by in the light of a bright spring day and I asked him, “What brings you to Damascus?”

He told me he had just hiked the entire Appalachian Trail – some 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia – I can’t tell you how old and lazy I felt and at the same time, envious imagining this trip for my own sometime.

Since I can’t imagine having time to do this, I asked him what stode out most from the journey and almost immediately, he said, ‘The towns.” I imagine by the way he grinned that Damascus was just one of many along the way.

Me…I’m playing music. He thought that was cool anyway and rode on by. Not long after that conversation I met a 50 year old social worker who surprised me by telling the story how he was making his way down the trail from New Hampshire. Surprisingly, his employer had encouraged him to do so. Now that really impressed me. Will someone please suggest this to Sandusky.

Tony was running sound tonight and while he was setting up the PA, I had time to grab a bite to eat with Reagan from the kitchen of the Old Mill and was it tasty! I had a great tuna steak and she had a pasta salad and both were memorable. Greg Smith is their new manager and chef and the Old Mill is high on the list for great restaurants in Southwest Virginia.

The Old Mill Stream

Along with the restaurant and the music hall, they also have a 7 room bed and breakfast right on the river that runs through the city (down by the old mill stream?) and I’m certain it’s a great experience altogether. It’s certainly worth the drive to have dinner along this mountain stream that is alive with cranes, various duck, kingfishers and other water fowl who hang out for the bread crumbs which you can throw over from the balconies.

Nevertheless, as Tony turned the final knobs on the PA, we were ready for our sound check with ‘Tear Stained Eye’ and things sounded good.

One of the things I like about performing with Reagan is that you never really know what to expect. The only thing I know for sure is that she’s going to do a great job and she always delivers. The band tonight had four pieces with me, Jason and Jim Price on bass and although the songs sounded a little different than they do with the full band, the music sometimes sounds just as good and most of all unpredicitble in lineups like this. I had fun trading solos with Jason on banjo and mandolin and he did a great job covering all the guitar parts for Greg.

During the first set, I noticed one guy was having a very “large” time and as I spoke with him he said, “I’ve been living out in the wilderness now for 16 years.” Now I might not be able to tell you how this looked because from the onset, he looked like any hiker – shorts, hiking books, gruffy hair and beard and GPS hung around his neck, but I can tell you the aroma without a doubt corraborated his claim.

He said he hikes the trail and does odd jobs along the way down the trail and enjoys visiting the towns along the way too. Sometime in between the story, I heard some kind of relationship that ended wrong and the more I talked the more he seemed like he was running away, but I understand what that’s all about and enjoyed listening to his stories – at a distance.

Our sets were good that night, but the crowd was sparse – perhaps some 30 people altogether, but I think they enjoyed Reagan’s music and they seemed overly appreciative as many of the crowd were having us all sign Reagan’s CDs and that’s always flattering to think about.