The last day of a very long eight weeks on the road this summer and we are dead tired. The ride from Northern Vermont to Southern Pennsylvania is not a straight line and there are many, many mountains to wind your way through, over and around: a drive that is not very conducive to sleep. It would have been easy to sit around the bus all day and try to preserve energy for the show, but one quick peek out the window was all that was needed to motivate each of us to do some exploring. This town may have one of the oddest names of all the towns and cities that we have played over the years, but it’s also one of the most fascinating and visually striking. This is an old coal mining town (originally called Mauch Chunk) that became the transportation hub for most of the coal that was being pulled out of these mountains in the 19th and early 20th century. It was an extremely wealthy town back then. The town grew about as fast as it could but it was limited by the size of the holler that it is in so rather than sprawling outward it grew up the sides of the hills and buildings were stacked tightly side by side on the streets. By the mid-20th century the bottom had fallen out of the coal industry and the town was broke. Most of the buildings were boarded up and deserted, which was oddly a blessing in disguise. When money began to flow back into this town there was a 100 years worth of untouched architectural gems, lining the streets and adorning the hillsides. The overall impression is of a small Victorian era town that you might stumble on in Europe, with these odd American flourishes thrown in for good measure. The name change came in the early 1950’s when the widow of Oklahoma native Jim Thorpe made a deal with the bankrupt Mauch Chunk to move his body to the town and erect a memorial to “Americas Greatest Athlete of the 20th Century” if they would change the name of the town to Jim Thorpe…makes sense, right? The town slowly got back up off the matt (with the same spirit that drove its new namesake) and is now a bustling tourist Mecca. It’s an amazing micro-world and well worth winding your way through the Poconos to check out.
I spent the afternoon on the Lehigh River which flows right through the town. I had lots of fun with the smallmouth bass…it’s a beautiful river and I could spend many days exploring its banks. The gig was in the original Mauch Chunk Opera House, an old vaudeville theater. It is definitely a haunted place, as is much of the town, with a great and mysterious energy. I think we had our best audience tonight (and there have been lots of great audiences on this run), they were loud and boisterous and full of Friday night. We needed them and they came through in a big way. We had a terrific show.
Tomorrow we head home to spend the last couple of weeks of the summer with our families and then the horrible routine of school days starts again. This has been a great little tour. Part of the reason is the area of the country that we’ve covered and the venues that we’ve played, but ultimately it comes down to the audiences and they have been overwhelmingly generous with their energy and enthusiasm. Thank you, thank you, thank you…without you everything in our world stops. There are lots of tour plans for the coming year and we still have the Nomad Series book on its way as well as a vinyl box set so please keep in touch through our website or Facebook page….we hope to see you soon.
Tags: Jim Thorpe
This entry was posted on Monday, August 20th, 2012 at 12:37 pm and is filed under Tour Diary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
As someone with a gallery of photography (not that it means THAT much) these images are quite good! Anyway, terrific show, super-happy crowd, and great to see every seat full – not easy to do here in Mauch Chunk. Our slogans for the Opera House are “It’s In The Walls,” which speaks directly to your impression that the town is haunted (plus Mae West, Al Jolson, The Dorsey Brothers played here, along with Richie Havens and Tom Rush), and “It’s About The Music,” which your program completely fulfilled. Terrific, memorable time for all.
Having lived in PA for 12 years my husband and I are only just now getting to know Jim Thorpe, and it is truly special! But it was you and the fact that we dated to your music just over 20 years ago that brought us in last weekend, hoping for a cup of cold tea blues but not in the least feeling its lacking with all of the wonderful music and warmth from the band! Thank you so very much. What a special show!!! My sweet love, now my husband, introduced me to CJ through Cold Tea Blues… now how on EARTH can a woman not fall head over heels for a man who feels the beauty of this very sexy song, and who makes her tea still to this day? And I have to wonder if it was this song that started my habit of adding the cream to his coffee cup (and honey if we have it) that waits for him by the coffee pot (which only works when the air is cool and I know he’ll be awake soon). So thank you for helping us cap off our 21 year anniversary celebration and we hope to see you again some day, some where soon.
Oh… and P.S. Proof that this Cold Tea Blues was truly “our song”…. track #9 is completely unplayable now on our copy of Pale Sun Crescent Moon!
I’m glad the band enjoyed Jim Thorpe. I was in Jim Thorpe the day of your show but I was unable to attend. That won’t happen again if you return. It’s been too long since I saw one of your shows – the last one was at the Theatre of Living Art (TLA) on South Street in Philadelphia in the early 90’s.
Since then, I moved away from Philly and live much closer to Jim Thorpe. I would love to see more original acts play the Mauch Opera House, so please tell your friends in the business about the venue. In addition to a return of the Cowboy Junkies, I would love to see John Prine or Bob Dylan on the marquee someday.
I hope to see you next year.
Back in June I took my wife on a surprise anniversary trip to Jim Thorpe. During our visit we went to a concert at the Opera House and learned that the Junkies were coming to town. The TRINITY SESSIONS have a special place in our relationship and we have always wanted to see them, but the timing was never right. We decided to get tickets and visit Jim Thorpe again. The show was one of the best concerts I have ever been to. It made for a very memorable and romantic weekend. This place is truly “haunted”, but in a good way. Can’t wait to see them again.
I’ve loved 21st Century and Live at Liverpool but this was my first Junkies show and I was simply mesmerized…you are as much of a nestled gem as our beloved Jim Thorpe…I cannot get over the 5-disc set you produced in just 18 months…I really appreciate the things you do well: rich, textured music; powerful words, and the pure powered vocals…Look forward to seeing you again at the Opera House…Let us take you on some tours of Mt Pisgah…(check out my blog for some old stories of the area if you wish)…We had a cholera epidemic in 1854 and other oddities…
Hey Cowboy Junkies! My wife and I attended the show on Friday in Jim Thorpe. It was absolutely fantastic! The musicianship was excellent and Margo’s singing was unforgettable. We loved the set from the Nomad series and thoroughly enjoyed the older songs. I was especially happy to hear A Common Disaster.
As if it wasn’t enough to see this show, we then had the pleasant opportunity to meet Jeff Bird and Margo afterwards. Both were very gracious and it was an unexpected bonus. I even got to have a picture taken with Margo. We hope you find your way back to Pennsylvania again … and soon.
Harvey’s Lake, PA
I regularly check out your web site so was excited this year as your tour started. Was able to see the opening show in Ithaca, the Harrisburg PA. show and the final one in Jim Thorpe. Each show was beautiful, amazing and different as your blogs convey. Different play lists from your extensive catalog made each exciting waiting to hear what songs you would preform. Loved to hear the powerful songs from the Nomad Series live and loved reading your blogs with your insights of the places you traveled to and feelings from the shows. In your blog of the Jim Thorpe show you end by thanking us but we truly thank you. In reading a sampling of the comments, it is evident your music holds a special place or connection in all our lives. That really comes through watching the crowds at the shows. Looking forward to your next tour and shows in PA.
Well said John. I am still reeling from this show. The lyrics and Margo’s voice stay with you. You Junkies are truly a gift to us. I too was delighted to meet Margo and Jeff. (And now becoming aquainted with Vic Chesnutt,makes the Demons disc even more compelling.)…Keep up the magic guys! (And good for you to get back to a “normal” schedule for your kids’ sake…I’m back to school for my 21st year of teaching).
I really like your description of your visit to Jim Thorpe. I do quite a bit of travelling myself and I always look forward to pulling into that next small town with its glimpse into history. I’ll make a point of visiting Jim Thorpe before the end of September. One of the most scenic drives you can take in our area is Route 104 from Lewiston, NY to Rochester,NY , especially east of Wright’s Corners. Then there are the towns of Skaneateles and Cazenovia, NY – just outside of Syracuse. These are a couple exquisite antique resort towns with lots of summer tourism that I’ll bet would be really delighted to have you guys come and play (just dont forget to come to the Buffalo area as well). By the way, your new Wilderness album/CD is just beautiful – and fresh :)
I can’t wait to see you in Grass Valley Friday. In case you’re looking for some bike trails, check out dub dub dub dot bonc dot org. It’s the bicyclists of Nevada County web site. I’m not a fisherman so I don’t know any local fishing holes. Nevada County Gold’s website is probably a decent place to look.