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Road music an important antidote to travel boredom

| Friday, Aug. 16, 2013, 6:36 p.m.
The Clark’s Greg Joseph, left, and band manager, John 'JW' Williams, on the Autobahn in Germany.
Jesse Cook of Plum helps his family select music for their trip to Florida.

The journey may be long, but the trip doesn't have to feel like it for those who have music along for the ride. Most won't leave home without it, whether their trip is in the air or on the ground. Some put serious planning into what they will be listening to on the way to vacations and other destinations, even tailoring their choices to the cities and regions in which they are bound. Others let the sounds come to them in waves of pleasant surprise as they select genres on their satellite radios.

Music is such an important component of a long trip for many because it is an antidote to boredom, says Elaine Abbott, assistant professor and chairwoman of the department of music therapy at Duquesne University's Mary Pappert School of Music. “Long road trips with repetitive scenery, no matter how beautiful, cease to engage our attention,” she says. Musical choices “depend on mood and the body's need for rest or stimulation.”

If a person can become engaged in the music, the moment, “then time flies,” she says.

“Music changes our experience of time, even when we're just sitting there,” says Eric Moe, professor of music composition and theory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Even the highway itself can provide accompaniment, he says. “Sometimes the car's wheels make their own rhythm. Adding another rhythm from music on top of this can be pretty nifty.”

Musician and professor Bill Purse, chair of the guitar and music technology department at Duquesne, finds that compiling a soundtrack for travel from his lengthy library of favorites helps him enjoy the prospect of an extended drive.

His wife, composer and digital artist Lynn Emberg Purse, associate professor of music technology at Duquesne, appreciates that music can act like a personal soundtrack to the moving images outside the car window, as well as a companion for those driving alone.

She recalls a “transcendent experience” driving through the Allegheny Mountains while listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

“The music and the mountains seemed perfectly suited to each other,” she says. Her own composition, “Sketches of America,” was inspired by a drive through the Painted Desert in Arizona.

Whatever the musical choices, “listening and driving just seems to go together,” says Pittsburgh rocker Norman Nardini.

“On a long trip, it will give you the opportunity to get inside the music,” Nardini says. “The recordings that you've been consumed by are great road companions. It's like you are hanging with the artists that made those classic recordings.”

For Nardini, those artists have included Willie Nelson, Otis Rush, Taj Mahal, The Band, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Lyle Lovett and many more. Lately, The Nighthawks, Merle Haggard, Buddy Rich and late Pittsburgh drummer-vocalist Ronnie “Byrd” Foster are providing the “fuel.”

While Joe Grushecky says he “likes to mix it up” while behind the wheel, “Van the Man (Morrison) always makes for a relaxing drive, and the trip go faster.”

Sometimes on the way to a gig, Grushecky will listen to his own music to brush up on lyrics and arrangements. Other times, he likes to listen to soul music from the '60s and '70s, or to catch up on new sounds.

His favorite stations on satellite radio are “Soultown,” “BB King's Bluesville,” “Outlaw Country” and “Little Steven's Underground Garage.”

Greg Joseph of the Clarks does not have specific road-music favorites.

“I try to purchase new music on trips. It adds to the adventure of going somewhere I have never been before,” he says. “It is also a solemn time to study new music and really concentrate on it.”

He and John “JW” Williams, the Clarks' road manager, did take a memorable music theme trip two years ago to Germany.

“It was all about automobiles and Octoberfest. We called it Autoberfest with Greg and John,” he says. They visited auto shows, took a factory tour and toured auto museums.

“We attended Octoberfest and ran at high rates of speed on the Autobahn, all while listening to driving music on JW's iPod,” Joseph says.

It may surprise many to learn that Pittsburgh music icon Donnie Iris prefers the sounds of silence while driving.

“I can understand how music can keep you company on a long trip and that it's an absolute necessity for some who can't live without their tunes,” Iris says. “I enjoy the serenity of a road trip alone and quiet. It helps me think and sometimes to be creative.”


Music choices rarely rely on destination for Alan Tignanelli of North Versailles. “It's the length of the trip,” he says.

His favorite road-trip musical experience: An almost-six-hour drive with buddies to two minor-league hockey towns in the same day.

“We had two, one-hour cassettes of the cheesiest '70s music in my collection, and nothing else,” Tignanelli says. “One of my buddies refuses to accept that he grew up in the '70s and that all '70s music was not bad. Just because it's cheesy doesn't mean it's not good. So, no matter how much my buddy pleaded, we had nothing else to listen to: Henry Gross (“Shannon”), Mary McGregor (“Torn Between Two Lovers”), Terry Jacks (“Seasons in the Sun”), Sister Janet Mead (“The Lord's Prayer”) and a bunch of others. Over and over and over. It was brilliant! And I still have the cassettes.”


It's time to put on the smiles and the miles when the strains of Lindsey Buckingham's “Holiday Road” dance happily through the vehicle occupied by Eric and Jamie Mattson of Duquesne. That signals one of their two yearly adventures to South Florida.

“We usually drive straight through the night, taking turns. The rule is: whoever is driving gets to pick what to listen to,” says Jamie Mattson, a letter carrier. “But each trip must start with ‘Holiday Road.' It's self-explanatory.”

And the vacation “must end with Jackson Browne's ‘The Load Out/Stay (Just A Little Bit Longer),' ” adds Mattson.

The many hours in between are filled by a varied selection, but the opening five songs after “Holiday Road” are expected: The Allman Brothers' “Rambling Man,” Roger Miller's “King of the Road,” Willie Nelson's “On the Road Again,” Simon and Garfunkel's “America” and Sammy Hagar's “I Can't Drive 55.”

“My successful formula seems to be a few ‘expected' songs, at least one classic country song and an angry punk cover of a familiar song,” Mattson says. “Beware: Southern rock songs always seem to pick up at the end and you tend to drive faster; not a good idea without cruise control!”


There's a reason the good Lord gave us automobiles, says Ken Belferman of Forest Hills.

“When I travel I like to see where I am, to stop when I want to, interact with and be part of my surroundings,” says the information technologist, musician and former New York City cab driver. The rhythm of the road, he says, “can be a marriage made in heaven.”

Accompanying him, among at least 100 other choices, are Pink Floyd (“An unlit highway at 3 a.m. and the sky is filled with thousands and thousands of stars and ‘Us and Them' is playing”); Coldplay (“ ‘Life in Technicolor' is a great open-road song, a ‘Bobby McGee' for the 21st century”); Chuck Berry (“Heading west from Pittsburgh? At some point you'd want to take Route 66 and almost any Chuck Berry song would do. ‘Little Queenie' is one of the best.”); Rolling Stones (“Why am I here, and where am I going? The answers are out there, waiting for me to catch up with them in ‘Moonlight Mile.' ”).


Trips are all about the music for the Cook family of Plum. Preparation for an end of August drive to Florida has begun.

“Our 11-year-old son Jesse is responsible for the soundtrack of the trip, and he has scheduled lots of music from Universal movies,” says mom Jodi Cook. “The soundtrack from grownups is a big part of the trip, too, lots of great '80s music that we all love to sing along with and recall our favorite parts of the movie.

“The trip in the car is such an important part of the overall trip. It is an incredible musical journey that keeps us smiling for the 1,000-plus miles we will be traveling.”


When retired Norwin Junior High home-economics teacher Marian Barry exclaims “Mamma Mia!' in front of her family it's not out of frustration.

It's just for the fun of easing on down the road of a long journey from her North Huntingdon home to another destination. “When we put the ‘Mamma Mia' soundtrack in, before you know it we are where we need to be,” says the McKeesport native.

“That usually keeps the driver awake,“ says granddaughter Marina Novotnak, 14, who admits, “we get tired of it after vacation.”

Thank goodness for (satellite) radio too, says Barry. “We pick up Broadway shows and sing along. It just helps you pass the time.”


From Samuel Thomeier's point of view, journeys never have to end when music is involved.

“A lot of songs actually remind me of trips I have taken,” says the Carnegie resident.

“Every time I hear Sammy Adams' ‘All Night Longer' I get that excited feeling that I felt when I was heading across the pond to Spain and had a play list of new songs I listened to. Any time I have the opportunity to take a nice long listen to music I appreciate that,” he says. “I like hip-hop so much because there are so many things going on: percussion, lyrics, DJ cuts and scratching, pianos, horns, guitars, samples, etc. It is cool to listen to songs over and over and still be able to discover something I didn't notice before.”

Among his go-to travel songs: “California Love,” with 2Pac and Dr. Dre, “even if you're not going to California!”; Common's “Celebrate”; Led Zeppelin, “Fool in the Rain;” all Bob Marley songs; and The Roots, “especially for Philly trips.”


Single mom Tiffany Beckwith of Coraopolis sees a road trip as an opportunity, rather than a challenge.

“I plan out what sort of shows — musicals, ballet, movie musicals etc. — that are coming to town that we will see when we return from vacation, and I play all the music from those shows in the car,” she says, “This is how my two daughters, 8 and 11, learn all the words and start to understand the musicals and plots. It helps develop an image in their mind, and then they can see how a different artist puts it all together on stage and see how it matches their perception.”

Beckwith says time in a car is a great chance for the family to do something together.

“Making music with my children brings joy and singing along can be a fun way to bond. I always learn a lot about my kids on a road trip.”


Anyone with an inclination to help select songs for Donna Click and her family's vacation drives should remember their cardinal rule: “No slow songs!”

“All of the chosen tunes are uptempo to keep the driver awake and for the passengers to sing along,” says Click of Cecil. A sampling: Almost anything by the Clarks, especially “Cigarette”; Bruce Springsteen's “Out on the Streets”; Stevie Ray Vaughn's “The House is Rockin”; Echo & the Bunnymen's “Lips Like Sugar”; The B52's' “Rock Lobster.”

“And, believe it or not,” says Click, “various songs from Disney movies even though the kids are grown!”


Among the many good reasons to take music along on your ride is a basic one, says Dennis Morton of Franklin Park.

“It keeps me driving while everyone else is sleeping,” says the North Allegheny School District music teacher and bluegrass musician.

He has different theme music for different destinations. When he takes his family to his mother's camp in Warren County, for example, he likes listening to country/fiddle music on the drive “because it gets me in the mood for a weekend in the hills.”

Heading home, he switches his play list to jazz. “It's more soothing and a great style of music to help us unwind from a fun-filled, outdoors type of weekend,” Morton says. “My wife and I like to listen to it as we reflect on the weekend's events. Before you know it, we are back in the ‘Burgh and getting unpacked for a new week.”


Like so many other road-trippers, music is a family experience for the Stewarts of Plum.

“Music makes a trip more enjoyable, even more so on a nine-hour drive to the Outer Banks,” says Delaney Stewart, 18. “Since my dad, Marty, does most of the driving, we let him choose the tunes and he does pretty well. Our whole family loves music and we find it interesting to discover hidden meanings about songs and offbeat stories about bands.”

When it's time to pull out of the driveway, it's also time to press play on Willie Nelson's “On the Road Again,” followed by the Go-Gos' “Vacation.”

“Then we go to Steppenwolf's ‘Born to Be Wild' to get our motors running,” she says.

As a reminder to watch the gas tank, Stewart says, they have Jackson Browne's “Running on Empty” and Edgar Winter's “Free Ride.”

“Once we cross into North Carolina, we exclusively play North Carolina native sons, including the Ben Folds Five and the Avett Brothers,” she says. “Pulling into the driveway of the beach house, Jeb Loi Nichols' ‘Heaven Right Here' ends our journey.”


Weather, time and landscape influence what Jake Haberman of Ross plays on road trips. “If you're driving through the desert or heartland of America, it doesn't get much better than the Eagles,” he says. “If it's late at night or passengers are sleeping, maybe I'll go with Pete Yorn, Moby, Phoenix or the XX.”

He fondly remembers listening to The Gathering Field in the countryside of Georgia and the Toadies in and around New Orleans.

“I catch aspects of the music that I never noticed before,” he says.


Al Sawchak of Murrysville says Kansas' “Song for America” pretty much covers the country, ”although, it's hard to play air drums while driving.”

He believes Neil Young's “Powderfinger” is most appropriate for any trip along the Gulf or southern East Coast, the Allman Brothers' “Blue Sky” for “almost anywhere,” but especially the southern U.S., Big Country's “Ships” for “anywhere near any shore,” and Springsteen's “The Rising” and “Missing You” for Lower Manhattan.

Rex Rutkoski is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4664 or

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