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Front Porch: A big blues adventure in a small town

Some parents take their kids to Disneyland for vacation, some travel to the Oregon Coast, others prefer to go camping.

We took our kids to Wallace, Idaho.

The area’s rich mining history didn’t prompt our pilgrimage, nor was it the lure of the Oasis Bordello Museum. It was the blues that drew us – specifically, the inaugural Historic Wallace Blues Festival.

Derek and I love blues music, and our youngest two sons have inherited our appreciation of this American art form. None of us had ever been to Wallace, so our trip felt like a true adventure.

A colleague said Wallace is her favorite American small town and urged me not to miss the interesting sites along the way. Alas, we zipped right past the marker to the Mullan Trail. This is what happens when you travel with three males who are destination-focused.

The Cataldo Mission also vanished in a blur. “Wait, stop!” I implored.

“But we’re almost there,” Derek said.

He was right. It took just over an hour to reach Wallace. We didn’t even need to break out the emergency red licorice stash. Short-distance road trips are a huge plus when you’re traveling with children. Even if those children are 17 and 12, and old enough to know to stay on their own sides of the car.

Still, next vacation, I’m driving.

We parked at the Wallace Inn, checked in and didn’t get into our car again for 48 hours. Everything in Wallace is within walking distance. This made quite an impression on 12-year-old Sam. As we strolled down streets lined with brick buildings, housing myriad vintage stores, Sam exclaimed, “I love this place! I want to move here!”

The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places. We ventured inside the Wallace District Mining Museum where Sam enjoyed sifting through chunks of silver ore and examining glittering tubes of gold dust.

But the delicious smell of barbecue lured us back outside. We found a sidewalk table at The Smokehouse Barbecue and Saloon right next to the smoker. While waiting for plates of ribs and brisket we watched a small drama unfold.

A woman driving a sedan attempted to parallel park across the street from us. It took her several tries to get her car parked. “Better than TV,” pronounced Zack.

But the entertainment grew more exciting when the local at the table next to us decided the sedan had been parked too close to her pickup. “Oh, hell no!” she said and marched across the street.

Back into the car went the beleaguered driver while the local shouted “encouragement.”

That free show put us in the mood for some blues, so we walked over to the Red Light Garage where Spokane legend Sammy Eubanks was just setting up.

As the sun went down, we sat under the neon Stardust Motel sign. The boys enjoyed gigantic ice cream cones while Derek and I danced to classic Eubanks tunes.

The next morning after a big breakfast, we prepared for a full day of blues. The main stage was located on Cedar Street, in the heart of town. City officials closed the street for the day and we lugged our folding chairs downtown and chose our spots.

Not all of the bands were hits with the boys. After hearing one group attempt a Jimi Hendrix song, Zack – our budding musician – quipped, “When I get famous I’m going to start butchering other people’s songs, too.”

But meeting Brother Music redeemed the day in Zack’s eyes. Jesse “Brother Music” Warburton is a longtime fixture in the Idaho blues scene. His renditions of classics like “Crossroads Blues,” coupled with his tales from life in the music business wowed us all. Zack brought home an autographed copy of his latest CD.

The day had begun hot and sunny, but at one point a tremendous rainstorm descended. The crowd ran for cover under merchants’ awnings until the deluge abated. The rain didn’t dampen any spirits. In fact, it added to the sense of shared adventure.

When the Fat Tones took the stage, Derek and I were ready to resume dancing, but the boys decamped to the hotel for a bit of R&R. The wet pavement steamed under the afternoon sun, and soon we decided to join the kids for a swim in the hotel pool.

Thus refreshed we caught the last half of Nick Vigarino’s Meantown Blues. Vigarino’s thrilling guitar solos whet our appetites for more music, but our tummies were howling for dinner.

The welcoming cool of the 1313 Club beckoned us. The menu provided us with this bit of trivia as to how the restaurant got its name: “There are a couple of different stories: The most popular is the fact that the original bar area was 13 feet high by 13 feet wide. The other story is that when they opened there were already 13 bars and 13 brothels going in Wallace.”

No matter the origin of the name, the food and service was fabulous. Fortified, we took our seats for the highlight of the festival: the legendary Curtis Salgado.

The 2012 soul/blues artist of the year was in rare form.

Salgado has struggled with a host of health issues recently, and this performance was his last before undergoing surgery to remove a cancerous growth on his lung.

He belted out classics like “A Woman or the Blues,” and the appreciative crowd responded, dancing around the stage and calling for more.

By the time Too Slim and the Taildraggers were ready to play, the boys were musiced out and left for the hotel. Derek and I followed at a more leisurely pace, stopping by the Red Light Garage for one more hit of Sammy Eubanks and savoring the best huckleberry ice cream we’d ever eaten.

All told our maiden voyage to Wallace was a great success. We’ll be back. And it may be sooner than we planned. Turns out the second annual Historic Wallace Accordion Festival is next week.

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