In 2014, West Virginia fiddler and banjo player Ben Townsend came to California for a musical residency at the Deep End Ranch, a Santa Paula citrus farm known for hosting musical concerts.
Deep End Sessions, as the program is known, is run by artist and rancher David Bunn and gathers old-time musicians from around the country, for house concerts and recording sessions. (I wrote about the series in May.)
Rather than fly out to California for his residency, Townsend decided to ride his bike — from West Virginia through Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and through the South and West. Along the way, he was rained on, suffered countless flat tires and even got shot at in Mississippi.
"I guess we were in the wrong place," he recalls with some humor. "It was time to move on."
Townsend played with roots musicians of all stripes in every state, getting their stories, picking up tunes and taping the whole experience for a Web series called "2 Guys Named Ben." (He did part of the journey with fellow musician Ben Guzman of California and pal Wolfgang Boyer, an Ohio resident.)
When he finally landed at Deep End 3,000 miles later, he decided to turn the trip into an album. Townsend, in collaboration with roughly a dozen fellow musicians, got to work producing an album that brings together 17 songs, at least one from each state that he rode through, including three from California. (The last song is a fiddle-heavy ditty titled "San Diego.")
The album, titled "Ben Townsend & Friends" and produced by Deep End, officially debuts in the very city where he ended his journey: Los Angeles. On Saturday, Townsend and a gaggle of fellow musicians — including Guzman, Kelly Martin, Joe Wack, Erin Schneider, Sausage Grinder, Eliana Athayde and David Elsenbroich — will put on a show at the Velaslavasay Panorama that will feature plenty of music, along with video from the journey.
"Many old-time albums will be a survey of a specific type of music," Townsend said. "This is more reaching. It's more than just, 'Here's a bunch of traditional West Virginia tunes or Appalachian songs.' It's a thread that runs along the entire American South.
"It is," he added, "all about the people's music."
"An Evening with Ben Townsend and Friends" takes place at the Velaslavasay Panorama at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $20; tickets are available from bentownsend.bpt.me. 1122 W. 24th St., University Park, Los Angeles. The album is available for purchase at deependsessions.com.
Find me on Twitter @cmonstah.