This old road, it’s a long, long lonely way/This old road is bound to get me some day/ But I know I’m goin’ home, and I know there ain’t no other way/But this old road—“This Old Road,” by Garr1son
I will never forget Green Forest Lane. It’s the “old road” that Garrison Blackwell—aka Garr1son (spelled with a “1” in the middle)—is singing about in his sad, slow tune, and it’s where I first witnessed post-disaster devastation in person. I drove down the road in the months after wildfire wiped out most of Concow in 2008. That blaze would combine with many others to become the Butte Lightning Complex, but initially it was called the Camp Fire, 10 years before another Camp Fire would level Concow again.
Garr1son lost the 3,000-square-foot home he’d built by himself over the course of 30 years to that 2008 fire. In the aftermath, some of us local musicians performed a benefit for him and I convinced the shy, reclusive singer/songwriter to play a few songs as well. The week before the show, I joined him and his buddy, bassist Chuck Holland, to rehearse on the burned-out property at the end of Green Forest Lane where Garr1son was living in a delapidated trailer, and that experience remains both one of my most painful and most cherished memories.
Garr1son wasn’t around for the second Camp Fire. He died Jan. 25, 2018. Below is an excerpt from a column I wrote about meeting and playing music with the man:
After squeezing ourselves and our instruments into his tiny hatchback, Garr1son plunged his squeaky rig down Green Forest Lane, the rutted, rugged dirt road leading to his property. The sickening irony of the road’s name sunk in as we bounced our way through the moonscape surrounding us. Garr1son explained how the flames had been on both sides of the skinny road when he fled the fires. The air was so thick with smoke and ash that he couldn’t see out of his windshield. He had to point a flashlight toward the embankment on one side of the road, and let it guide him out. He admitted that the only thing that saved him was his years of experience driving home from bars at 2 in the morning.
Standing around the open hatchback, listening to a recording Garr1son had made on a neighbor’s answering machine of a couple of his tunes, I had to force myself not to look around too much. I couldn’t have played a single note if I would have dwelled on the fact that I was standing in the burned-out heart of the man in front of me. As the red sun set behind the charcoal poles littered around the lot at the very end of Green Forest Lane, the three of us got lost in the groove of Garr1son’s bittersweet blues.