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John McLaughlin and Jamie Downs, Editors


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"Highway 80, She's a Mighty Fine Road"
The Trip to Minnesota
Photography/Layout by Jamie Downs
Text by John McLaughlin

(All copyrights reserved The Digital Folklife.Org., 20001)

August, 2001

Dave Carter’s right: Highway 80 slingshots you from the Delaware Water Gap to lovely Chicago in no time at all (tho the numbers keep going up, 80-90-94, as you zip along to St Paul and Benjamin, of course), and there’s a great Summer-long festival of dance along Grant Park, where we saw Harmonia, a terrific Armenian/Turkish folkdance band, with a beautiful old cymbalon, like a hammered dulcimer played sitting down, and some of those expert dipping and swaying dancers to entertain you along your road.
But then the long-threatening thunderstorm, breaking the heat wave, came swooping down over the skyscrapers, flash went the lightning, crash went the thunder, swoosh came the dancing rain, and we all ran laughing for Thai food.


Other nights in Grant Park there’s ballroom dancing and barndancers (would you believe the Volo Bogtrotters? How about the Hackberry Ramblers? ), everything from clogging to insinuating tangos with the Dick Judson Orchestra, Bob and Penny Urban as instructors (Dave and Hannah Breed is what I want to see) – a program running from June 21 to September 2, 2001, but the road called us, and obediently we went, Drum Hat Buddha alternating with Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem’s Cocktail Swing in the CD player in the purple Tracker, out past the flatlands and the dells, all the way out to the Twin Cities and the Irish Fair of Minnesota on Harriet Island along the banks of the Mississippi in St Paul.


That’s where we sat down facing the Barge Stage at Galtier Plaza for Corncrake, a fine Chicago Irish trio (uillean pipes, flute and fiddle), who were busily turning onstage anarchy into "Stirling Castle" and "Bonnie Kate," before being skirled off by the pipes and drums of Brian Boru and "The Green Hills of Tyrol."

Inside the tents lining the banks we heard some beautiful harp-playing, from Dennis Doyle, a gigantic ex-student of Sylvia (remember her in Robin Williamson’s Merry Band?); Dennis’ webpage can be found at:, but Benjamin called us away, to a party with three other two-year-olds, so we missed Eileen Ivers, on sabbatical from Riverdance (which an unkind New York Times critic has called "an Irish ‘Triumph of the Will’" – damn, that’s funny!), so we left the Mississippi and toddled obediently after Benjamin.

The next day, however, Tim – Ben’s dad – had us set up to go to a Japanese Festival in Como Park, part of St Paul’s lovely greenbelt, where a gigantic trail of 150 – count ‘em – kites, spaced four feet apart, tugged on the belt of a Japanese grandmother, soaring and dipping 600 feet (the math’s right, right?) in the air. Then we went on to the thunder of the Mu Daiko drums, acrobatic choreography and all, and then to the fernery inside the conservatory, and finally to the ceremonial lighting of the paper lanterns on the pond at dusk, and so to bed.


Benjamin watching the kites

Eventually we had to say farewell to the grandson, and retrace our steps to Bonnie Chicago, where we had the privilege of sitting down with three lovely arts administrators – Ann Breed, Susan Ravine and Jamie Downs – swapping war-stories, and then going gallery-trekking with Jamie, who’s interested in mid-west representation, why not.

Along the way we met two fascinating gallery owners who stood out especially from the others, on this trip at least. The first is the owner of Gruen’s Gallery, an 82-year-old Berliner who worked in the Messerschmitt fighter airplane factory during WWII, but is the subject of a current magazine article which displays a photo of him wearing a concentration camp jacket that was in point of fact given him by an actual Buchenwald survivor after the war, to help save him. What can you about the horrors of survival?

The other was Byron Roche, who has a rack of CD's from Bach to Robert Johnson right next to a beautiful old Martin guitar in his gallery. We sat down to talk with him for a while, and it turns out he’s a friend of Michael Smith ("The Dutchman"), Steve Goodman, Jim Post, John Prine – the whole Chicago school of folkies. Gallery owning, it turns out, is a lot like running a coffeehouse – or a fine arts classes/social service organization – getting gigs for other artists and putting your own art on the backburner.


But it was a nice break in the day for us – serendipity-doo-da one more time? – before we had to get back in the purple Tracker and head East, Highway 90-94 dwindling down to 80 as we zipped along the flatlands, detouring up past Lake Erie just for because, down around Cleveland, and then, at long last, hitting the hills and hollows of our beloved Pennsylvania once more. "This is my home/This is my only home/ This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known," Jamie sang along with Dave and Tracy as we sped past the Pittsburgh/Erie Line, and headed past State College and Penn State to Bloomsburg then Hazel-town then home to East Stroudsburg near the Delaware Water Gap. Coming up: The Philadelphia Folk Festival, our grandmother. See you and Lila Downs there? The Digital Folk Life rides again….