Chasing Music: My Crazy Campervan Adventures in America

If you’re one of the many who have stayed close to home during the COVID pandemic of 2020-21, here’s your chance to live vicariously through the adventures of Australian bluegrass radio broadcaster Jan Dale as she chronicles her American journey that took place over a period of six years in the 1990s. Her goal was to discover what she could about the music and culture of the US—including a good dose of bluegrass. 

Dale was at the end of a relationship in 1992, both of her parents had passed away and she had no dependents, and she had just celebrated her 50th birthday. She loved her job as general manager of the Australian Film Institute’s Distribution Company, but it seemed the right time to resign and pursue some travel dreams. Jan put her belongings in storage, rented her house, and had her mail forwarded to her sister’s address. In San Francisco she purchased an 11-year-old Volkswagen “Vanagan” with a pop-top roof—what we in the States might describe as a conversion van set up as a camper. Jan hit the road, travelling 160,000 miles, crisscrossing 48 states as she discovered bluegrass, country and Cajun music; honkytonks; rodeos; dancing (mostly the country two-stepping variety); dozens of national parks; and some truly memorable campsites. She made a number of new friends and even shared a few romantic stories (mostly with gentlemen who were proficient at two-step country dancing).

What started out as an exploration of America, its music, its people, scenery and geography, became a journey of self-discovery for Ms. Dale. She also learned a lot about campervan maintenance and traveling on a strict budget. High points include going on the road with the Sand Mountain Boys, being struck by lightning at the Grand Canyon, the Southern New Mexico Rodeo, the Delta Blues and New Orleans music adventures, the photo of Jan with Hazel the python at the Poppy Mountain Bluegrass Festival, Jan’s quest for authentic African American gospel music, and another photo of Dale dancing with the father of bluegrass Bill Monroe.

Sometimes we are too close to a subject to see it clearly. It’s enlightening to view America—and in particular, bluegrass music—through the perspective of someone from another country. Readers will enjoy discovering places Jan has visited located in our own back yards and home states, which we may not have been aware of before because we are not living on dollars a day in a campervan with no particular schedule in mind for the next year or so. 

Jan Dale is an internationally recognized radio producer and broadcaster, and her award-winning show, Southern Style, may be heard on Melbourne’s PBS FM 106.7 station and at www.pbsfm.org.au. She has been an emcee at a number of bluegrass festivals in Australia and the US, and she writes articles for bluegrass publications. Dale has traveled to more than 70 countries, often backpacking alone. She was one of the final nominees for IBMA’s Bluegrass Broadcaster of the Year in 2019.      Highly recommended for friends of Jan Dale who have met her at IBMA’s World of Bluegrass events over the years, along with anyone interested in reading about bluegrass and the US from a fresh, international perspective. Available at bookstores online in paperback or eBook format.  

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