Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Paddle Wheels and Podcasts: "The River Signal" Makes a Stop in St. Louis

Posted By on Tue, Aug 11, 2015 at 7:55 AM

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The River Signal from The River Signal on Vimeo.

The boat arrived July 30 for a week-long stay. During their time in St. Louis, the three recorded sessions with local musicians Beth Bombara and Bo and the Locomotive, as well as organ sessions at the City Museum and an Indian classical duo at a church. The previous week they recorded noted songster William Elliott Whitmore on the Missouri, Iowa and Illinois border. And along the way they've gotten to know the unique culture of the Mississippi itself.

"The most interesting people are the folks living on the river or where the river is their space," says Huckins. "People on the river know other people all up and down the river. It's this whole connected area, like its own state. We're kind of an oddity to people who are not involved in the river. People in St. Louis don't really access the water. So it's a bizarre thing. But someone who lives on a shanty boat somewhere understands what we've seen and even knows the people we've come to know."

To pay for this expedition, the team sold the truck and trailer that somehow transported The Channel Princess from Portland to Minnesota and ran an Indiegogo campaign. Mostly they've funded the journey out of their own pockets and relied on the kindness of strangers along the way.

"If we look happily incompetent, people will usually take pity on us," Benson says. "In Hannibal, we tried to tie up at the seawall where The Mark Twain ties up. It was going all right but not our best operation. There was a guy watching us just upstream from the boat club. He saw us there, and as he was pulling the line on his pontoon, he said, 'Do you guys just want to come up here?' He had a really nice dock and let us stay there."

The crew may feign naiveté, but Huskins has been living on the 36-year-old boat for three years; it was originally built on the Missouri River as a mini paddle wheeler, then salvaged by Huskins and completely restored and retrofitted. He gutted the 33-foot craft, installing walls, cabinets and bunks, and he feels confident passing through the locks and dams, navigating the submerged (and potentially treacherous) wing dams, and dealing with the wakes from barges that sometimes swamp the transom. All three of the crew share chores, work on scripts, edit podcasts, tweak the sound and keep the boat afloat. And all three will get to know and re-imagine the main artery at the heart of the heart of the country in ways that would otherwise be impossible.

"A city like St. Louis looks so different from the river," says Benson. "You do feel like you're in this altered landscape. It made sense to tell a story from that perspective. On the river, the world is totally different."


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