World’s Largest Wren, Topeka, KS


Constructed in the 1930s, this local landmark used to be perched on the rooftop of AM radio station WREN 1250, which, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal, was “a mainstay in the Topeka and Lawrence area from 1926 until it went dark in 1988.” A few years ago, the station returned to the airwaves, streaming only over the Internet. The wren was purchased by Historic Topeka, refurbished, and moved to its current location in 1993. Visited October 2015. 

Location: In Huntoon Park, at the triangle of SW 12th Street, SW Huntoon Street, and SW Topeka Boulevard.


The Barn (Levon Helm Studios), Woodstock, NY

The Barn

The Barn is not a roadside attraction, but it’s definitely a destination.  It was built by Levon Helm, drummer for The Band, in Woodstock, N.Y., where he lived until he died in 2012 (his house is right next to The Barn). The structure is home to Levon Helm Studios and the legendary Midnight Ramble Sessions, which Helm began in 2004 after his recovery from throat cancer. The sessions drew (and still do) people from the local area as well as from around the globe, not to mention it’s a favorite stop for many musicians who like to drop in and jam. The Barn provides an intimate setting for performances – less of a concert and more like a gathering of friends in a rustic living room. In keeping with that family feel, guests are encouraged to bring a dish to pass at a potluck supper held prior to the performances.

The Barn is located on Plochmann Lane – just look for the mailbox that says “160.” Visitors to the Ramble wind their way along a dirt road to the end where their name is checked off a reservation list (there are no tickets).  The line waiting to get in is an interesting one – old, young, professionals, hippies – all there for one reason: a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience. And an experience it is indeed – one that is so unique that it’s hard to describe, beginning with standing in that line.

I was there to see Jackson Browne, and I’ve never met such wonderful people in my life. I had to use a cane because of a bad hip that prevented me from standing too long. My friends took care of me by setting up a camp chair in line while the people around us offered to assist any way they could. One of those people had been to the Ramble numerous times and said that it would be all we would talk about for a week – he was right. Once the doors opened, we walked into the main room where folding chairs were set up; stairs led to a second floor where people can stand around a railing to look down on the simple stage. It’s a beautifully constructed building; I’d guess it holds about 200 people. You are welcome to bring in your own drinks, as long as they’re in plastic cups, and you can come and go as you please. One strict rule, however, is no photos – and it is a strict rule. It’s tempting because you’re so close to the performers, but the ban is one of the things that makes the Ramble special and retains the family atmosphere. Outstanding performances by The Dirt Farmer Band (featuring Levon’s daughter, Amy) and Browne culminated in a joint rendition of “The Weight.” As we walked toward the car afterward, I found myself mumbling to my friends, “What just happened in there?”

I could keep going, but this post is already longer than it should be. Many thanks to the staff for their courtesy to me and for “keeping it goin’” as Levon requested, and a special shout-out to two gentleman – John and his brother, David – who stood with us inside and were so gracious at helping me get up, sit down, and stand. You left too fast for me to say “thank you,” so this will have to suffice. It was great to meet you. I greatly appreciated the conversation and all your help.  Visited July 2013.

Related post: Big Pink, West Saugerties, NY

Big Pink, West Saugerties, NY

Big Pink

The legendary Big Pink is WAY off the off ramp, but it’s still a pilgrimage for lovers of certain music, a certain era. The year was 1965. Bob Dylan, the voice of a generation, was preparing for a U.S. tour and hired a group of musicians who had previously worked together as the backup band for another singer as well as recorded on its own. That group, which was frequently referred to by their frontmen as “the band,” would later become known as The Band: Rick Danko, Garth Hudson, Levon Helm, Richard Manuel, and Robbie Robertson.

After the U.S. tour, and a world tour the following year, members of The Band followed Dylan to Woodstock, N.Y., where Dylan lived. They moved into a big pink house at the end of a winding dirt road with a view of Overlook Mountain in the Catskills between Woodstock and Saugerties, N.Y., and nicknamed their rental Big Pink. It was around this time that Dylan would have his famous motorcycle accident, resulting in him retreating from the public eye. During his recovery, Dylan and The Band recorded music in Dylan’s house as well as the basement of Big Pink. These recordings were formally released as “The Basement Tapes” in 1975.

Another equally, if not more, important outcome of this time was the 1968 release of The Band’s first album, “Music from Big Pink.” The now critically acclaimed album, the cover of which was illustrated by Dylan, included such hits as “The Weight.” The album is said to have strongly influenced other artists like George Harrison and Eric Clapton (click here for an interesting blog post on the latter), who, according to some sources, may have even visited Big Pink.  Visited July 2013.

Related post:  The Barn (Levon Helm Studios), Woodstock, NY