One thing we’ve learned on this tour is that there is a big disconnect between expectations and reality. Often, the gigs we were most skeptical about have turned out to be the best. And that’s true of little Wibaux, Montana.
The entire Wibaux show in 30 second time lapse:
At the Beaver Creek Brewery, the owner, Jim, and the bartender and manager, Jason, greeted us warmly. Jason once worked playing electric bass for the Medora Musical—a nightly show in Medora in an outdoor amphitheater that seats over 2000 people. Next to the amphitheater is a place called the “Pitchfork Fondue” where, before the show, they plunge pitchforks full of slabs of meat into huge vats of hot oil. Now, Jason is happily dug into the brewery, where he plays with Jim and the musicians who pass through. But he’s also a guy with big dreams that extend out beyond Wibaux. When he saw the Jeep and Scamp parked out back, he told us, “I saw your rig, and I just want you to know that you’re living my dream.” He handed us a card and told Rosa that if she ever needed a bass player, to let him know.
Rosa in the rig in Wibaux:
I think a lot of people who meet us on this tour would be surprised to know that I’m a college professor and Rosa is a writer at NBC. They see two people who are in love and play music all over the country, traveling around in their Scamp. It’s true and a myth at the same time, and like fiction writers are prone to do, we appreciate the imaginations of the fanciful.
Jason, me, and Rosa:
Rosa and I played on a big stage in the Gem Theater, next to the Beaver Creek Brewery after Jim passed out “Shhh! Respect the musicians” signs to all the tables. The room was packed with very quiet, very attentive people from Wibaux and surrounds—oil field workers, a potter from Beach, a guy named Eric from Bismarck who hates Bismarck and fell in love with Wibaux, guys from Forrest Lake, Minnesota, Rosa’s cousin and her boyfriend from Miles City who cheered like hell, stomped the floorboards, and drank six bottles of Muscato in three hours…
Me, Rosa, Jennifer, and A.J.:
And while it was nerve racking playing to a large and silence audience, it was our most enthusiastic crowd yet. They adored Rosa. One guy, Drew, recorded a video of her, and said, “You’re gonna go viral!” I knew Drew was a painting an overly-pretty picture when he told me, “I’ve known a lot of harmonica players in my day, and there are only three of them who could really play. You’re one of them, man.” But hey, every once in a while in life, it’s great to actually “get away with it.” Luckily, I’m standing next to Rosa who could make anyone look good.
The Australian waitress at the Beaver Creek Brewery told me that she was obsessed with Bob Dylan. When she came to America she told her husband, “I want to see New York, San Francisco, and Hibbing, Minnesota.”
The Gem Theater lives up to its name because of a combination of so many things and characters. This is largely due to Jim Devine’s vision of this place he’s created—a brewery, restaurant, and music venue that enriches people’s lives in a small place on the edge of the fracking lands. Like Klaus Kinsky’s character trying to bring an opera house to the deep Jungle in the movie Fitzcarraldo, Jim has brought a big idea to small town, and the audiences there embrace it with an enthusiasm we have rarely seen anywhere else.
And Wibaux also reminds me of stories of those gold mining towns or logging towns, where the streets were lined with saloons. In Wibaux, there are many closed up shops on the two-block main street, but four bars in a row.
For eight bucks, the local greasy spoon serves an all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet on Sunday. Rosa and I woke up in the morning, had two full plates of eggs, French toast, and fried potatoes, and then took off for Laughing Sun Brewing in Bismarck.