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Collins, McNurlin to celebrate Kerouac's birthday with concert

Mar. 19, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

Jack Kerouac was an author and poet who is best known for his book "On The Road." The classic novel showcases Kerouac's style of 'spontaneous prose,' a method of writing that is more free-form than is found with other standard writing styles.

In the book, Kerouac successfully captured on paper some stream-of-consciousness reflections of real events he had experienced while traveling America, inserting elements of 1950s bebop jazz riffs into his sentence structure.

"On The Road" is considered one of the best American novels ever written, a piece of work that became the hallmark of the 1950s 'Beat' generation. The book not only brings Kerouac's road trips to life, and the characters he experienced on those journeys, it also reflects an attempt to break through the conformist neo-suburban tendencies of that time period. And, as local historians will note, in this landmark novel, Kerouac mentions some Tri-State landmarks along the way.

On Thursday, March 21, Ritch Collins and the 3-0 Band, along with local real country musician Rob McNurlin, will host the annual Jack Kerouac Birthday Jam at the Marquee Room located within the Paramount Arts Center in Ashland. The venue is located at 1300 Winchester Ave. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $5. More information can be found at 606-324-3175 and www.paramountartscenter.com.

Joining Collins and McNurlin for this get-together will be Jeff Carter on clarinet and accordion, Charleston's Joe Dobbs on fiddle and Randy Ackerson on steel guitar.

So, why throw a party for Kerouac in the Tri-State? The reason is that Ashland is mentioned in "On The Road." In a section of his book, Kerouac talks about a bus trip he took from Washington, D.C., through the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, over the roads of West Virginia, and then along the "dark and mysterious" Ohio River to Cincinnati, eventually ending up in St. Louis. The passage reads, "....went out of my way to see the Blue Ridge, heard the bird of Shenandoah and visited Stonewall Jackson's grave; at dusk stood expectorating in the Kanawha River and walked the hillbilly night of Charleston, West Virginia; at midnight Ashland, Kentucky, and a lonely girl under the marquee of a closed-up show."

Collins and McNurlin believe that marquee was attached to the now-titled Paramount Arts Center.

"Rob McNurlin is a long, tall, horseback-riding country boy and when I first met him, I was playing rock and roll and I was in a completely different world than he was," said Collins, a local musician who is also the audio engineer for the Mountain Stage radio show and other area events. "We discovered that one of the many commonalities that we had was that we were both Jack Kerouac fans. We became instant friends because of that, and many other things that we both liked, although we are very different people. So, once we made the realization that when Kerouac wrote 'On The Road,' he makes a reference to Ashland, Kentucky, looking at a 'marquee of a closed up show,' we made the determination that surely he was at the corner of 13th Street and Winchester Avenue."

Once Collins and McNurlin connected over their mutual appreciation of Kerouac, they decided to combine forces on the musical side of the equation as well.

"Both Rob and I like Kerouac's writing as well as other things like Johnny Cash songs, and over the years of our friendship, we've tried to play as much music together as possible," said Collins. "This is another excuse for that to happen. When we play the show together, we kind of trade punches. Rob plays a lot of sad 'killing' songs and I play a lot of happy silly songs, so it kinds of works out."

The annual concert happens this time of year because Kerouac was born in the month of March.

"It is first and foremost a birthday party," said Collins. "We'll have a little cake and ice cream for Kerouac, and we play some songs that Jack would like. We just pick them out of our list and say, 'Jack would like this one. It's a railroad song.' We figure that anything that is about being on the road is something that Jack would like. I've traveled all across these fine United States and many other places. But, I was mostly working (on these trips) and never 'at leisure' as Kerouac did it. To me, you're a pretty smart guy if you can figure out a way to make some money out of your traveling. Kerouac never really became wealthy from any of his writings, but he certainly gained some notoriety for a certain amount of time and I'm sure he did OK."