Dancing in a stodgy music hall usually filled with symphony-lovers, I’m reminded of the summers Sheryl Crow went camping with us. Although she says this is her first time in Santa Rosa, I know she traveled with us to dusty, obscure backwater campgrounds we found— often by chance— at the end of a hot day in a cramped car.
Sheryl, with her mighty soprano pop notes and husky red-wine lower range, was a great traveling companion. Four very strong personalities were trying to make sense of this new “blended” family, and its clumsy, rustic camping traditions. Sheryl’s music would surprise us, telling stories of Las Vegas and Santa Monica Boulevard.
She brought along sleazy characters all longing for escape, or love, or both.
1994 was the year Bob and I moved in together, and was our first year camping together as a family. We went to Alpine County, new territory. It was Sheryl’s breakout year with Tuesday Night Music Club. I recall Bob telling our children –Travis was 9, Robyn 10 – that the “Leaving Las Vegas,” and “All I Wanna Do” stories were not Sheryl’s literal life experiences, but rather her ability to become the fictional narrators of the songs. I was so very grateful he explained this, because I, too, was befuddled about the lifestyle of our favorite songstress.
But whether she was a dancer from Nevada or a barfly in LA, it didn’t matter. She knew, and still knows, how to weave her fragility, her strength, her independence, and her unending longing for love through a masterful blend of blues, folk, pop and rock’n’roll songs.
In 1997, Sheryl accompanied us to a rainy Stanislaus campground with “Change (Would Do You Good).” We followed her advice, headed out of the rain north into Yosemite, singing: “Every Day is a Winding Road.” It was great trip. We fished, rubber-rafted the river, and hiked to the uppermost Mariposa Grove of redwoods. The summer flu cut the trip short, but Sheryl got us home with ”Sweet Rosalyn.”
In 1999, on a trip to Hellgate campground, she brought us “The Difficult Kind” from The Globe Sessions (which sadly she did not perform at her concert). Sheryl’s deep throaty sadness in the foreground, and dramatic back-up harmonies behind tell a heart-wrenching story of love gone sour; I insisted we play it over and over and over again.
I memorized the melody and Robyn, with her magnificent voice and an uncanny ear, picked up the harmony. The song became our daily anthem making the journey difficult for our tolerant male traveling companions. For those were pre-iPod road trips; music experiences had to be shared in a more communal and participatory way. We listened and sang together. It was better that way.
But good news: Sheryl seems very happy and relaxed. She is supposed to be a perfectionist, so the small Santa Rosa venue helped her feel “she could do what she wanted” and even “mess up.” As she performed, she paid particular attention to a couple of ten-year-old fans in the front row. I hope those youngsters have the chance to take her camping.
But mostly, selfishly, I hope that — before my children move far away and get too busy — we can take Sheryl Crow on a road trip, again, someday.
© 2009 Karen D’Or