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Damien Jurado’s Trip Down Blue Highways

Elise Tyler

After 21 years of life as a touring musician, singer-songwriter Damien Jurado was struck with an idea: What if he stopped playing the same major markets and traveled to some places he’d never been before?

Jurado has made it a point to visit some minor markets on his current 50 State tour and he says that touching down in these often overlooked towns and cities has revealed one thing: The blue highways, those overlooked spots, can be just as vibrant as their counterparts.

“They’re thriving music scenes,” Jurado says. “But Rolling Stone and Spin and Pitchfork, Stereogum, they aren’t writing about these scenes. They aren’t writing about these bands. And that, to me, is really sad. Because I can tell you: I have met some of the most incredible people and the most incredible musicians who I feel are just as good and deserve much more attention than artists we’re continually writing about.”

Jurado’s songs are often populated by weary travelers, people on the run, and forgotten places in the American landscape. Though some of those characters and locations are fictional, the inspiration for them rarely is. The road, he points out, is his muse.

“I have songs that were inspired and written basically by stopping at a gas station for half an hour or a truck stop for half an hour, somewhere in Iowa,” Jurado says. “I literally have songs like that, where I can tell you, ‘OK, this line’s inspired by this stop I made in Iowa in 2006 or driving through Arkansas in 2004.’ So, it’s been with me for a long time. I think I will continue to draw inspiration from it.”

With some mainstream venues tapping into artists’ merchandise sales, many performers have sought out alternative performance spaces. Jurado is among those seeking financial shelter in places such as tattoo parlors and museums. He is the first to point out that he’s hardly groundbreaking in this strategy.

“Woody Guthrie in his time wasn’t playing Carnegie Hall, he wasn’t playing the Paramount Theatre,” Jurado says. “Woody Guthrie was playing peoples’ living rooms and he was on picket lines and he was in workers’ camps, union strikes. This is where Woody Guthrie was. It was about the music.

With a handful of dates behind him, Jurado will continue making his way through the 50 states for at least the next year. This current run, though, is about something deeper and longer lasting than just putting food on the table or recruiting new fans.

“These songs and what I’m doing don’t see political parties,” he says. “It doesn’t see technology. It stands beyond that stuff. It really gets down to community. And talking. Conversation. I think we’re just getting lost. I’m not saying that this is a solution or anything but I’m doing my part in living out my convictions.”

Jurado performs at Barleycorn’s Tuesday evening.


Jedd Beaudoin is the host of Strange Currency. Follow him on Twitter @JeddBeaudoin.

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