There was this one gig we played in a haunted Kansas hotel where there'd been a suicide and an attempted murder. Built in the late 1800s, the Wolf Hotel was the only entry point to an underground network of tunnels beneath the small town of Ellinwood. It had housed as many as 11 saloons and speakeasies through the years, and had seen its share of violence.
This was all part of our 2020 West Kansas tour around Shelly's home town of Hays, a community of Volga Germans who stuffed us with casserole and pulled pork and craft beer, and told us ghost stories. George Custer once lived there, and Calamity Jane, Buffalo Bill Cody, Wild Bill Hickok. And THE Boot Hill cemetery is there. And lots of family and friends to take care of us. We crashed at the family cabin south of Hays along the Smoky Hill River, and sampled the suds at Gella's Lb Brewery ("Gella" is Volga-German for, "Ya know?"). And at the local Kwik-E-Mart, we ate "Sno-balls" (that's Volga-German for "Slurpy").
I must admit, when we rolled up to our first gig - in tiny-town Schoenchen (say that 3 times real fast after a few Gella brews) - I thought maybe this was the Kansas equivalent of a "Snipe Hunt" for us newcomers. The venue was a little tin shed called The Getaway, surrounded by neighbors feeding their yard chickens while giving us the stink-eye. But once inside, the place filled up with super friendly locals who argued with each other about how to pronounce the name of their town. There, I ate the best pulled-pork sandwich in the entire Universe.
Next morning, we load in to the Pavilion in downtown Hays, where apparently Shelly is sorta a big deal. The community really came out to that, including her 4th grade teacher and the former president of the local university, to witness what a fine job they'd done training up this fiddler. Singing "The Bodark Song," I had to smile when we got to the line, "A twister whipped up and its winds did carry a big hunk of Kansas to that Texas prairie."
It was that night that we played the haunted Wolf Hotel in the very dining hall where a fella named Bernard had spent his final moments. In 1927, after a nasty jilting from his girlfriend, Bernard had checked in, spent the day shopping around Ellinwood, dressed up in his finest Gatsby duds, dined his last, and shot hisself right there. The bullet hole, still in the ceiling. "Disturbances" have been reported through the years, especially in one of the underground rooms. In another incident, one of the cooks tried to kill another in the hotel kitchen with a pistol. Fortunately, he only maimed the other in the leg. ...Good times!
So, next evening, we're back in downtown Hays at a little wine bar owned by the mayor, called the Paisley Pear. A local picker named Jason Riegel had reached out and so we invited him to squeeze in that night. He plugs in his dobro, and POW! We have ourselves a fine pickin party. Turns out, Jason and his wife Aimee have a cool little duo in Hays called 80 Proof Alice (Go check em out!).
Anyway, if there's one thing I learned in West Kansas - other than it being one of the tastiest slices of the down-home Americana pie still left in the world - it's that the place surely must be where the wind comes from. Cuz ya see, they got these giant white fans on the horizon.
Now ya know!
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Because "Maps ain't made by those who stay behind."