FLOAT TOUR: Zac Smith and Cheryl Roorda of the Itinerant Locals play their instruments last Tuesday outside their party barge parked at their Hot Springs home. The couple leaves Saturday for a month-long tour of the Ouachita River. In addition to performing, they will highlight ecological issues relating to the river.
BY LESLIE FISHER
Zac Smith and Cheryl Roorda of the Itinerant Locals will take their unique brand of music on a month-long tour this May.
But, rather than hitting the road, they will travel by boat down the Ouachita River, playing music and highlighting the work of Ouachita Riverkeeper Inc. along the way.
“I think it’s great because they’re bringing attention to the river, both its beauty and its problems,” said Riverkeeper Cheryl Slavant of Monroe, La.
A long-time environmental activist, Slavant founded the nonprofit organization with Michael Caire. “Anything that promotes the river and brings attention to it in a healthy way, we’re 100 percent for that,” she said.
An affiliate of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, the Ouachita Riverkeeper’s purpose is to restore and monitor the Ouachita River watershed.
“When you’re on Lake Ouachita and you look down and you can see the fish on the bottom or you’re up in the creeks and it’s just so clean and beautiful, you can’t imagine what it looks like in Monroe, La., but it’s a different river all together,” Smith said. “By the time it gets into Louisiana and by the time it empties into the Black and the Red River, it is nasty. Between Lake Ouachita and Monroe there is a lot of stuff getting in the water and the Ouachita Riverkeeper organization is going to start enforcing the existing law.”
The organization has five trained patrol boats on the river, which look for point sources of pollution, review permits, take water samplings and report to various agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
“The EPA writes the law but they don’t have the power to enforce it,” Smith said. “They don’t have people on the ground. The Game and Fish (Commission), they’ve got other stuff they’re doing. Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, their hands are full getting the really, really nasty stuff out of the environment, so this sort of citizen empowerment idea, I think, is super powerful because it makes all of us the front line against pollution.”
Ouachita Riverkeeper, he added, is not trying to put people out of business. “They’re just out there to get people to clean up their operations.”
As Smith and Roorda travel down the river, they will meet with the volunteer river monitors and provide information about the organization and the river to the people they meet along the way. They also be doing water quality tests and, of course, performing music – at campgrounds, street corners and music venues.
They will play at Enoch’s Irish Pub & Cafe in Monroe on May 13 and at the Riverboat Festival in Columbia, La., on May 16.
“We hope to still firm up some more gigs,” Roorda said. “If nothing else, we’re going to just get out on a street corner and play everywhere we go.”
The couple has toured the U.S. by car and RV, but had long wanted to do a boat tour.
“Since I’ve met Zac, he’s been trying to get us on the water,” Roorda said. “He’s been trying to get me off the road, out of cars for eight years now.”
The Ouachita River, they decided, would be a good place to start.
“This is a slow, flat river and though it’s commercial for a good part of its length – from Camden down – it’s commercial; it’s still restricted. It’s not as big a water as, say, the Mississippi or the Ohio or even the Arkansas,” Smith said. “So it’s a good way for us to get our feet wet, so to speak, and start out small and see if this idea can take off.”
They found and purchased a 1978 Riviera Cruiser, in Clarksville. They have done some repair work on the boat, replacing some boards and putting in new carpet. They have also added solar panels, courtesy of Bob Nagy, a solar power consultant in Pearcy, which will power the trolling motor.
“As we go down the river, we’re going to try and do it without burning fuel,” Smith said. “We’ve got a motor on there and can use it to be safe, but our intent is to use the solar power to get us down the river.”
As they were researching the Ouachita River, Smith came across Slavant and her work with the Ouachita Riverkeeper Inc. They contacted her in February and have been working with her ever since.
“It was really a great partnership,” Smith said.
He and Roorda, along with their children, have already completed the first section of their journey. They spent five days in early April canoeing the upper Ouachita River from Pine Ridge to Lake Ouachita, camping along the way.
The family of four will start the second leg on Saturday in a canoe from the base of Remmell Dam to Arkadelphia, where they will switch to the party barge. They will then travel the length of the Ouachita River, ending at the Old River Control Structure in Louisiana.
Low Key Arts, 118 Arbor St., will host a May Day Launch Party for the Itinerant Locals from 5-9 p.m. Friday, with live music provided by the duo. Slavant will also be on hand with information about the Ouachita Riverkeeper organization, which will have their first launching of the official Ouachita River Patrol boat 11 a.m. Saturday at Sunnybrook Access at Entergy Park.
April 30, 2009
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Although locals are not usually perceived as "itinerant," the
Itinerant Locals are both.
Zac Smith and Cheryl Roorda are a married musical duo now living in their own home in Hot Springs, rather than in Seattle, where they met, or in their RV, which they had named "Clark Cortez." The Spa City has been home for a little over a year.
Smith plays tuba and Roorda plays accordion; while still technically a duo, they have a new "member" on stage with them: their 9-month-old daughter, Eureka Kudzu Smith. (She’s the one on stage right, on her blankie with an assortment of toys; the tip jar is stage left.)
The Itinerant Locals are comfortably outside the musical mainstream, but have converted a novelty sound and goofy stage presence into something like a living. And though the pair is relatively new to the Natural State, it appears they already have a cult following.
"We wanted to get out of the city scene we were in," says Roorda, about their time in Seattle. "We had a great downtown studio apartment, across from The Crocodile club, which had great music, but after getting pregnant, we started looking at raising a kid. We’re both from small Southern towns, and we had spent a year driving around America and during one of our tours, we came to Hot Springs. It stuck in our brain.
"We were up on Hickory Nut Mountain, and a woman gave us a phone book. Then we met a midwife who plays accordion, so we moved here, without knowing anyone."
From the start, things just seemed to fall into place for the Locals. When their musical midwife, Barbara Mueller, had to miss a gig at the Hot Springs Brau Haus, a German restaurant in Spencer’s Corner, Smith and Roorda stepped up and covered for her, and did so again several times in a sixmonth period. When the restaurant’s Friday night performer retired, Mueller took his spot, and the Locals took hers.
"We’re there most every Saturday night now," Smith says. "We go out and tour and leave, and (Brau Haus owner ) John Linehan is real flexible with us. We were pleasantly surprised to come to a small town and find this great restaurant and bar. He has no expectations or demands he makes of us; he just lets us play."
And when the couple play, they’re not exactly providing background music. While their first set is usually instrumental music, the presence of baby Eureka on stage sometimes be- comes the focus of some of the patrons. And it’s not unusual to spot children a few years older than Eureka, venturing onto the dance floor to watch, more fascinated with someone small in stature on stage, holding forth with a selection of toys and appearing to be oblivious to her surroundings, except for when her parents strike a familiar note or two.
‘STAY UP LATE’
" Eureka likes it when Zac sings," Roorda says. "She especially likes it when we do a song by The Talking Heads, ‘Stay Up Late,’ where we sing about having a little baby. And it’s hard not to sing it to her. She just loves it, since everyone is usually looking at her by that time."
Born Dec. 19 in Hot Springs, Eureka has begun to resemble a percussionist at times, the couple reckons. The baby, who has been observed flailing her tiny arms to that Oktoberfest favorite, "The Chicken Song," is also fond of "The Bartender’s Polka."
"She almost always starts banging on something during that song," Smith says. "She hangs in there, especially on the songs with the beat, the dancing songs. If I notice a flash, I know she’s doing something and somebody in the audience is taking a photo."
Eureka’s mother could not be prouder.
"Zac gets jealous," she notes, laughing. "But we’ve found that our tips have gotten a lot better since she’s been on stage. I don’t think we’ve ever gotten a sitter for her, although back in Seattle, we had a couple of gigs where we couldn’t take her in that were at 21 and over clubs. Of course, when she becomes mobile, we don’t know what we’ll end up doing.
"I think we’re becoming the back-up band for her. She wants to be front and center, so we have to get louder and louder."
TURN DOWN THE CLOTHES
Smith and Roorda crossed paths when both made their ways to Seattle. He’s from Tuckasegee, N.C., and she hails from Tallahassee, Fla. Both deny having had extensive musical training. Smith took a lot of violin lessons as a child, and Roorda paid her youthful dues learning piano.
"I was forced to play a lot in church," she says. "I didn’t study music in college and didn’t get a degree."
A college degree was not in the picture for Smith, either.
"I picked up the electric bass and was a rock and roller for years," he says. "Then I picked up the tuba. I wanted to play without amplification."
It was while both were playing for Seattle’s Cirque du Flambe, a music/juggling/acrobatics group, that they met, destined to share a music stand, and, ultimately, more.
Besides their love for unusual musical textures, the couple also have a mutual fondness for polyester, and like to present themselves in colorful attire at their shows.
"People that don’t like the music can at least look at us and laugh," Smith says. "We try to be visually appealing. So we’re out to dress up so that our clothing is actually louder than our music."
At one recent show, Smith was decked out in a red hat and pants, a black and silver shirt, long necktie and white shoes, while Roorda was "conservatively" attired in a red polka dot shirt, gray checked slacks, turquoise socks and black and white shoes.
"It’s a little hard, however, to find polyester baby clothing," she adds. "You have to be dedicated."
In their early days, Smith and Roorda did a lot of "busking," or playing on streets and in subways and in other public places, hoping to entertain passers-by sufficiently that some tips would be left. They traveled around in what they called "Paco the Prelude," living in an old white Honda. They stepped up in class when they acquired "Clark Cortez," an RV with all the comforts of home. They still keep Clark in their Whittington Avenue yard.
" It’s our first house, ever," Smith says proudly. "In Seattle, you have to rent to afford a place. Here, it’s cheaper to buy a place than to rent one. So we’re busy doing that. We drywalled our ceiling two days ago. We had to live in Clark for a while when we got the house, which at the time had no running water."
Though they’re currently busy feathering their nest, the couple hope to start work soon on a second CD. Their first, Spred the Fred, from their Seattle days, is all-instrumental and not that indicative of their current style. Nowadays, they find plenty of vocal material to feature, ranging from originals to their own versions of songs by Warren Zevon and Steve Earle as well as The Pointer Sisters’ "Fire" and even Van Halen’s "Jump."
The Itinerant Locals will perform from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the Oktoberfest event at the Diamond Bear Brewery, 323C Cross St., Little Rock.
They have played at several art gallery events in Little Rock for their friend Tanya Hollifield’s Art After Hours, and they will be back there from 5:30-10 p.m. Nov. 18. The gallery is at 410 W. Third St. Smith and Roorda emphasize their availability (see their Web site www. polkayoureyeout.com).
"We will play anywhere: weddings, singing telegrams, bar mitzvahs," Smith says. "We played at a grand opening of a Hancock Fabric store in Conway recently."
This story was published Sunday, October 10, 2004
Locals come to Town with Oomph and a Squeeze By Shara Rutberg
One button on the old Renelli squeezebox keeps jamming. The tuba is tarnished. But nothing gets in the way of the Itinerant Locals World Domination Tour, which swings through Crested Butte this weekend.
So far, the Seattle-based duo of Zachary Smith on tuba and former local Cheryl Roorda on accordion have hit five cities in Canada, played in streets and parking lots up and down the east coast, and headlined at Betsy's Wedding (an event, not a night club) in Wisconsin. They've put 11,000 miles on Paco the Prelude, a weathered white Honda they've been calling home. Living in a Japanese compact is even more challenging when two large musical instruments take up most of the back seat.
Two things keep them going on their musical cross-continental journey. The first is an addiction to the instant gratification the two enjoy when people turn a corner and hear the oompah of the horn and carnival-esque melody of the accordion. The second is polyester.
"I'm thrilled to be doing this," says Roorda, who sports a polyester blazer in a color no longer manufactured in the Western world. "This is an absolutely ideal job for me. We're our own bosses and we're providing art. We're making people smile."
"We love the one-on-one interaction of street performing," says Smith from under a hat that resembles a lampshade more than a little bit. "Our payoff is so instant." Smith is not referring to the cash that fans toss into their instrument cases, though they've earned enough on the streets to finance their tour. He means the grins they get from passersby, the squeals they get from kids who park themselves in front of the duo and the many, many people who have told them 'thank you whatever the hell you are." "In New York City, people came up and danced," he says. The reaction has been different in other places. The Itinerant Locals set up outside a Twins game in Minneapolis and nobody seemed to notice the two polyester-clad minstrels tooting and squeezing on the corner. Perhaps polyester and tubas are more common in the Midwest.
Polyester has become more than a costume for Roorda and Smith. It is a way of life. It is a political statement. "We're out to save our landfills!" says Roorda. "Because, like diamonds, polyester is forever."
Smith explains the polyester connection: "It all started in Bismark, North Dakota," (as many things do). "I found a place that sold all the polyester clothes you could stuff into a bag for one dollar." A wardrobe was born. The duo encourages people who come to see them this weekend to squeeze into their favorite polyester ensembles. There will be a prize for the best display of synthetic fabric. "Go for the 'full Cleveland,' one hundred percent unnatural fibers," says Smith. "It's not easy. But it can be done."
The band's repertoire runs the gamut from classic tarantella and polka to new tuba/accordion spins on old rock favorites. The mingled sounds of the big old horn and the piano in a box are a sign of future musical trends, says Smith. "There's definitely a revival of these instruments," he says, "a neo-Gothic feeling, a revival of vaudeville and circus." In fact, a circus is where the two met. Smith and Roorda were playing for the Seattle's Cirque du Flambe where they shared a music stand. In between flaming acts of juggling and acrobatics, something sparked between the two. Luckily, they weren't wearing highly flammable polyester ensembles at the time.
The Itinerant Locals play the Forest
Queen Friday night at 8 p.m. Wear polyester.
By Tamiko Murray