Hillbilly Highway – Back on the Nowhere Road

There is a road that stretches back in time, back beyond the interweb, beyond compact discs, cassette tapes, vinyl records and gramophones. It winds between hills and hollers, follows riverbanks and lakeshores deep into the woods and across tall grass prairie. It picks up from quays and travels back across seas, crossing itself time and again in backwater voids, where wind whips dead branches against nothing and scavenger birds craw out in vain.

This is the same road Steve Earle and Dwight Yoakam sang about in the 80s, same road the Boss, and Dylan before him. Before them all, Hank Williams sang about this Lost Highway. The sands of time have largely obscured the names of those who sang about it before ol’ Hank, but their numbers are legion and their ghosts walk the road still.

This is the Lost Highway, the Thunder Road, Highway 51, Route 23. The Hillbilly Highway, the Nowhere Road. The low road. Maybe you’re walking it now, following your dreams up and down Pembina Highway or Portage Avenue, Highway One or 17.

I been on many of these roads, myself. I just cruised down a gooder: west on provincial Highway 2, with a south turn at Holland onto 34. 34 hits a stop at 3, then heads west again to 3A. Now you’re in country country.

The tiny village of Clearwater, MB has hosted the perennial Harvest Moon Festival for the past ten years. Formed as “a celebration of the harvest season, local food production, the area’s rich cultural heritage, and the bond between rural and urban folks,” the festival is like no other in Manitoba. A strong community dedicated to surviving against the economic and political forces that are draining people and money from the prairies, Clearwater is itself a beacon of potential for any community struggling to remain viable in the 21st century.

And the music is fucking good too. Highlights, for me, this year were the Deep Dark Woods, CKUW favourite Greg MacPherson and Ridley Bent’s Good Looking Country Band. Each delivered to-notch performances in weather bordering on frigid. Many other acts performed throughout the days, including Bog River and the Reverend Rambler, names to look for on the hillbilly highway in the months and years to come.

Keep your eyes on the road. It has a way of winding somewhere strange.

– Sheldon Birnie

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