Chasing Music, My Crazy Campervan Adventures in America by Jan Dale.
Jan Dale, PBS FM’s long standing radio host, and bluegrass and old-time music aficionado. Last year we announced the release of her new book, Chasing Music. An expose on her travels and discoveries throughout the USA in her search for music, entertainment and discovery in a new land became a life changing experience.
What started as an exploration of America, its music, people and scenery quickly became a journey of self discovery. In 1992, I packed up her life, headed to America and bought myself a little campervan. Hitting the open road I travelled 160,000 miles across 48 states, discovering Bluegrass and Cajun music, honky-tonks, juke joints and rodeos, dancing and romancing and camping in strange places – Jan Dale.
Book Review by Peter Somerville
If the recent travel restrictions have left you with a dose of cabin fever, then Chasing Music might be just what the doctor ordered. Australian author Jan Dale’s book about her years of travel on a shoestring budget through the byways and backroads of north America is an absolute page-turner, and the perfect tonic for both veteran armchair travellers and those of us unwillingly stuck at home.
It is a delight to get to know Jan through her tales. The book is packed with eye-opening (and occasionally hair-raising) tales of being struck by lightning, close encounters with bears, and venturing into well-hidden local bars in the back blocks of rural America. Dale is not only a natural writer with a great turn of phrase, but a truly intrepid traveller.
Dale is not only a natural writer with a great turn of phrase, but a truly intrepid traveller.
There’s a little romance and self- discovery along the way, but Dale’s main focus is music, dancing, and learning about the places she visits. Her not-so-trusty VW van takes her from Texas honky-tonks to the famous Carter Fold, taking in Cajun scenes, African American Gospel revival meetings, the Grand Ole Opry, Mississippi’s delta blues, New Orleans jazz, drum and fife traditions, and the Bluegrass of Kentucky. Dancing is a gateway to the local social life.
Over the course of her travels, the author becomes proficient in an array of dancing styles from Texas and Cajun two-steps to Appalachian flat-footing, and through her dancing meets a host of colourful characters.
It sometimes seems that most of what I hear of America lately is negative, so the stories in this book are a timely reminder that the country’s ordinary people are warm and generous on the whole, and that there is a huge diversity of rich local cultures that differ wildly from state to state and region to region. My desire to travel there is re-energised.
The book includes some fascinating reading about western legends such as Wild Bill Hickok and the first known African American cowboy, Deadwood Dick. This is a marvellous book, and compulsory reading for anyone interested in intrepid solo travel and the rich heritage and living cultures of American music and dance.
Jan Dale is producer/presenter of the popular radio show Southern Style on PBS FM, Melbourne.
Peter Somerville is a well known Melbourne musician, recording artist, teacher and songwriter.