Smile Politely

They travel the world!

Ten years ago, I was a 20-something, new college graduate who was ready to get out, see the country, and experience life. Or, were I writing this at the time, I was ready to: Experience. Life. (Note that each word is important enough for italics, its own period and comes with the optional “man” suffix.) I had romantic ideas of pulling a Kerouac and hitchhiking across the country, maybe writing about the whole thing until the world fell in love with me. Which means, of course, I got a job at a bank and watched a lot of TV and read much as possible — in the lunch room on breaks, on my short walk to and from work, with any and all post-work, non-TV-watching hours.

And so one day, while randomly scanning the tables at a bookstore, I discovered Hobo: A Young Man’s Thoughts on Trains and Tramping in America. It was my new favorite book, on title and idea alone. I devoured it and started writing road trip short stories, using as much as the tramp and hobo and trucker language as I could pilfer from the text. I marked up and highlighted passages and recommended it to everyone who would listen and Googled (or, this being a decade ago, I might have Yahoo’d or whatever nowquaintseeming search engine I was using at the time) the author, Eddy Joe Cotton, and found he was also part of something called the Yard Dog Road Show. The website described it as “hobo cabaret, a living patchwork of vaudeville and rock and roll: sword swallowers, dancing dolls, fire eaters and sunset hobo poetry.”

And thus began my decade-long fascination and curiosity with the show, only to find me always having just moved to a new city, or traveling on vacation, when they came to town. Until now.

This Friday, June 25th, I’m geeked to share the news that the show is coming to our very own Canopy Club here in Urbana. I contacted Cotton (real name Zebu Recchia) and asked a couple questions about the show:

First, I’m just wondering how you typically describe the show to people?

We are a mad collaboration that started as a three member jug band on the front porch of a house nobody lived in. Now we’re a full variety show with dancing girls and sword swallowers and other fancy things.

Is there one way of explaining it that tends to get people most curious/excited?

“We travel the world” I try that one a bunch — it’s true and it even works sometimes. Unfortunately, there are no perfect words for this.

Among the chaos, what’s your role in the show?

The only title that comes close is Straw Boss. It means I have a lot of responsibility and very little of authority. [Though, writer’s note: Zebu isn’t on this current tour. Still, I like the term “Straw Boss” and so am including this question regardless.]

You’ve been doing the show now for… how long? Almost a decade, right? How has it changed in that time? Did you ever envision, back in those early and exciting days of newness, that it would still be going, kicking strong, all these years later?

It’s been about 8 years since the jug band.

That’s all it does is change, whether we like it or not. But that’s an artist’s job, to adapt. We also build rainbows and go swimming in rivers. The show is what keeps us together. We do our best to perfect it because we believe in it. But we also keep our ear to the ground, waiting for the next “big” idea to come along. This takes patience and nurturing. This is where the respect and love comes in. And the ability to accept and enjoy the quiet time between outlandish apparitions.

As you know, I first discovered you through your kickass book, HOBO. Any new writing projects? What’s in the future for both you and/or the YDRS?

I have another suitcase full of notebooks from when I lived in Las Vegas. I just looked through that case the other day and I think there’s another book in there. It will have a little bit of HOBO in it, but leaner, not as many voices. Same kind of deal though, stories about people living fragmented lives and searching.

As for YDRS they will soon be touring the world in a hot air balloon. But before that, we did just craft a 5 song EP. This will be available at the shows. We’re also working on full documentary/retrospective. We have 10 years of YDRS on Super 8 and video. We hope to release that in 2011. We really want to get it done before the world ends.


So there you have it: dancing girls and sword swallowers and a jug band. Does it sound like anything you’ve ever seen before? Does it sound like anything you’d want to miss?


Related Articles