Key to the Highway: Nicki Bluhm

Interviews Key to the Highway Series

photo by Melissa Clarke

Americana Highways’ Key to the Highway series

Fans always clamor to learn more about their favorite, most beloved musicians and those who travel with them. There’s such an allure to the road, with its serendipity, inevitable surprises, and sometimes unexpected discomforts. This interview series is a set of questions we are asking some of our favorite roots rock Americana artists to get to know more about them and what they’ve learned and experienced on the road. We are sure they have key insights to share and stories to tell. Here’s one from Nicki Bluhm.

Americana Highways: How do you like your coffee or other morning wake-up beverage?

Nicki Bluhm: When you’re getting coffee on the road you never know how long the coffee’s been sitting in the pot so I always get an Americano, add a little raw sugar or honey and a splash of cream…then repeat at soundcheck.

AH: What’s the most interesting or strangest motel/hotel or place you have stayed (while on the road?)

NB: Way back when, I accepted an invitation on behalf of the band to stay on a fan’s “ranch”. We started making our way there after the show around 2am and wound down the dark backroads of rural Washington. We arrived about 45 minutes later and opened the van doors to howling winds, pitch black sky and a frenzy of German Shepherds leaping and yipping in their chain link runs. As intimidating as the barking dogs were under the veil of night, inside were about 2 dozen German Shepherd puppies tramping around in little kiddie pools. The accommodations were unique; a bedded horse trailer, an RV with plastic sheets on the bed and a converted garage I shared with my drummer. I’m pretty sure my tour manager opted to sleep in the van…not the most restful night to say the least but I learned a valuable lesson pretty quick…hotel rooms are worth the dough.

AH: If one CD is stuck in the player in the van for the entire tour, what do you hope it is? And why?

NB: It’s pretty rare that 8 people agree on what they want to listen to. For a while we had a headphone policy so everyone could choose their own sonic experience, including silence which I often opt for…gives me time to think or work out my own songs/lyrics. When I toured with The Gramblers we did The Van Sessions where we’d learn our favorite songs from our past and play them to pass the time. There is a CD though that’s been stuck in my car for about the last year; Kris Kristofferson Live at the Philharmonic which I’ve been very stoked on and comforted by. Feels like you’re hanging out with them…makes me miss playing live shows and excited to get back to it.

AH: What’s one personal item you must have with you on your road trip?

NB: I always have whatever book I’m reading, usually a novel for escape, plus my journal and a Zebra F-301 Retractable Ballpoint Pen (it’s gotta be that one). I always need chapstick and a thick hand salve too…I’m really dry and travel makes it that much worse…one of the results of an imbalanced Vata.

AH: What is your relationship with food? How do you handle this on the road, and what’s your favorite dish on the road, (or restaurant, and what do you order there)?

NB: Most of America is a food desert…especially in the middle parts. I’ve done all kinds of things to try and keep a healthy diet on the road but it’s definitely one of the biggest challenges. For a while we were in a bus and I brought a crockpot on board and would make Kitchari (an Ayurvedic dish) but the band complained about the odor…turns out not everyone likes the smells of Indian cooking. If we can find a Whole Foods or Natural Market that’s always a bonus…then everyone can get whatever they want. Having a dialed rider helps…avocados, apples, good red wine. I sorta got into a morning diner routine for a bit there…that’s always a good way to start the day and pretty much every town has a good classic American diner…waffles with crispy bacon.

AH: If you could pause your life for a few weeks and spend some time living in a place you only have passed through, which would you choose, and why?

NB: I would love to spend more time in Tulsa or Oklahoma in general. I once mentioned that to a friend who grew up there and he just said, “yeah it’s great…but just wait until the locusts arrive and the heat of summer settles in.” Now that I’ve survived an entire summer in my new home of Nashville I’m a lot more acclimated to southern living. But in all honesty, every time I drive through Oklahoma I wish I had more time to stay and explore. I recently had a night in Hinton, OK at Red Rock Canyon Adventure Park on my way out to Telluride and was once again enchanted and surprised by the terrain. There definitely seems to be some magic out there.

AH: What quote or piece of advice have you gotten from someone on the road that has really stuck with you?

NB: Never pass up the chance to do free laundry.

Find all things Nicki Bluhm here:

See other Key to the Highway interviews here: (click here for: Ben Nichols Bruce Cockburn Charlie Musselwhite Jim White Danny Barnes  Patterson Hood Jerry Joseph BJ Barham Rodney Crowell Todd Snider Elizabeth Cook Tommy Womack Eric Ambel, Dan Baird, Robbie Fulks, Malcolm Holcombe Jon Langford Steve Poltz, Lilly Hiatt  Sarah Shook & the Disarmers )

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