A 2,500-mile journey to California — and back — in his ’73 VW bus gave Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Nicholas James Thomasma lots of time to craft the perfect highway soundtrack. Check it out.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Earlier this fall, Grand Rapids musician Nicholas James Thomasma, frontman for Nicholas James & The Bandwagon, experienced the odyssey of a lifetime: a cross-country trip from Michigan to California to see Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, The Who and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters at the much-ballyhooed Desert Trip, a trek he documented for Local Spins. Not surprisingly, his beloved 1973 Volkswagen bus, Kelly Jo, had its own idea of how thrilling this voyage might be with Thomasma enduring a host of repairs that delayed his return trip and had him mount a successful GoFundMe campaign to get back home. It gave him ample time to assemble a playlist of “songs for the road,” which started as a Top 10 and ended up as a Top 15 list. As he put, “I had to whittle it down from 30 or 40. It was a long trip!” Consider this riveting highway soundtrack a little reward for his supporters. “There’s nothing silent about the love I feel in Michigan,” he said. “I wouldn’t have made it home without the generous support of my community. Thank you to everyone who donated to the Go Fund Me, shared my story on Facebook or just followed along. It means a lot to me. I’ll always be grateful and I promise, Kelly Jo Bus and I have many more miles of smiles ahead of us. See you down road.”
LOCAL SPINS GUEST PLAYLIST: Nicholas James Thomasma’s “Road Trip with Kelly Jo”
Road trips. Some people love them and others dread them, but most everyone agrees, a good road trip playlist can make any distance much more enjoyable. Generally, you would make your road trip playlist before you go on your road trip. Unfortunately, Kelly Jo, my 1973 Volkswagen Bus doesn’t have a radio. I wasn’t able to listen to music for six weeks, so as I was driving I would think of songs based on road signs, landscapes and many other reasons and I started writing them down — songs that came to mind while traveling.
1. “Going to California,” Led Zeppelin – The whole reason I was taking this road trip was to attend Desert Trip festival in southern California. I’ve never been to California but “Someone told me there’s a girl out there with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair.” If that isn’t reason enough to check it out, then I don’t know what is.
2. “Omaha,” Counting Crows – This song will get stuck in your head as you’re approaching “Omaha. Somewhere in middle America.”
3. “Mountain Song,” Jane’s Addiction — Every time I crested a mountain, as I was picking up speed on the downgrade I sang these words at the top of my lungs; “Coming down the mountain!”
4. “Me and My Uncle,” Grateful Dead — This is a perfect example of how songs came to me. As I was heading through south Colorado, I saw a sign that said W. Texas and Santa Fe. This great little cowboy story jumped to mind.
5. “Take it Easy,” Eagles — There’s a park in the middle of Winslow, Ariz., called Standing on the Corner Park with statues of Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne, complete with a flatbed Ford and a gigantic Route 66 sign painted on the bricks in the middle of the street. I stood on the corner. It was indeed, “Such a fine sight to see.”
6. “Walk on the Ocean,” Toad the Wet Sprocket — I’d never been to the Pacific Ocean before. This song sprang to mind when I “Spotted the ocean at the head of the trail.”
7. “California Girls,” The Beach Boys — This one speaks for itself. Thank you California.
8. “If You’re Going to San Francisco,” Scott McKenzie — Upon arriving in San Francisco, I parked Kelly Jo outside of the Grateful Dead house and went for a walk in the neighborhood. People in San Francisco will tell you it’s not the same but from everything I saw, the hippie culture is still alive and well in the Haight Ashbury district. “If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hair. …You’re going to meet some gentle people there.”
9. “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay,” Otis Redding — I spent more time in the Bay area than I thought I would and I did a lot of exploring. At one point, I was sitting in the morning sun on a bench near the docks and sang this song out loud for people walking by: “2000 miles I roamed, just to make this dock my home.”
10. “Homesick,” Kings of Convenience — I discovered the Kings of Convenience in 2005. I used to work at Believe in Music and this song struck a chord. It’s a sweet little ditty about moving away from home and starting a new life and new job (presumably at a record store.) As I was traveling, I was looking around thinking “I could live here. I liked it there. I could live there.” When Kelly Jo broke down I was very lonely and over 2,500 miles from my empty apartment back home. I wasn’t looking to move away, but I did want to see what was out there. I was feeling pretty low when this line hit me. “Homesick. Cause I no longer know where home is.”
11. “Honey in Your Heart (Lemonade),” Seth Bernard — When my bus broke down, at the suggestion of a few friends, I started a GoFundMe account. Without even knowing how much I would need for the repairs, I set the goal at $6,000 thinking that it was astronomically high and there was no way I would raise that much. Within 24 hours, my GoFundMe was fully funded. The way my community came together around me was absolutely mind-boggling to me. I feel so very loved. “When life gives you lemons, you’ve got to make that lemonade.”
12. “Touch of Grey,” Grateful Dead — My loneliness immediately switched to an absolute NEED to get back to Michigan after the GoFundMe. All fear was gone too. I knew I would be OK. I knew I would make it home. I knew where home was. I also felt like no matter what came my way next I would be able to handle it. “I will get by. I will survive.”
13. “Paul’s Song,” M. Ward — I slept in a lot of Walmart parking lots on my trip. Every town in America has a stretch of Generica with a Walmart and a McDonald’s. They all look the same. “You say how does it feel to be traveling? How’s it feel to live your life on the train and the air-o-plane? Well I ain’t gonna lie to you; well every town is all the same.”
14. “Turn the Page,” Bob Seger — I sang some songs for my neighbors at camp at Desert Trip festival. When they found out I was from Michigan, they asked me if I knew any Bob Seger. I couldn’t play this song at the time from memory, but I can now. I still feel guilty about not knowing any Bob Seger when asked. Once Kelly Jo was fixed, I found myself singing gleefully, “Here I am, on the road again”
15. “Homeward Bound,” Simon and Garfunkel — I could have just as easily picked the song “America,” with the line, “Michigan seems like a dream to me now” but the thought of going home was too important not to include. “Home – where my thoughts escaping. Home – where my music’s playing. Home – where my love lies waiting silently for me.”
READ MORE ABOUT THOMASMA’S JOURNEY: Desert Trip: A West Michigan musician’s wild and wobbly, inspiring, magical mystery tour odyssey to see McCartney, The Stones, Dylan
NICHOLAS THOMASMA’S SONGS FOR THE ROAD ON SPOTIFY
(Scott McKenzie and Otis Redding tracks not available on Spotify)
Copyright 2016, Spins on Music LLC