Live free or die—those words are emblazoned on license plates all across the Granite State, and they’re also the unofficial motto of biker culture. For decades, motorcycles (like rock ’n’ roll) have embodied the spirit of the American outlaw—of personal freedom against authority and convention. As a kid, my parents used to drive me to New Hampshire every summer to visit my grandparents, and each year I’d stare in excitement at the swarms of Harleys passing by us on the New England Thruway—wondering where they were all going, and what they would do when they got there. I later learned that one of the nation’s largest annual biker rallies was held in Laconia, NH—a usually sleepy town nestled between the White Mountains and Weirs Beach. I hadn’t been back up that way since my grandfather passed away several years ago, but when I read online in 2005 that Blue Cheer—the underrated progenitors of heavy metal (and winners of two 2008 Doobie Awards—see the story on page 46)—were playing in the US for the first time in 13 years at the rally, I knew it was time for me to go back.
I managed to get in touch with a guy who represented the band, who told me that founding frontman Dickie Peterson was a big fan of the magazine, and that if I wanted to drive up, he would set me up with free tickets and an exclusive interview. The next day, my cell phone rang—on the other end of the line was none other than Peterson himself, who offered me, in his gravelly voice, not only an interview, but a place to crash with the band. So on a warm mid-June morning, I packed a bag and headed north on I-84 toward the Broken Spoke Saloon and rock ’n’ roll history.
What should have been a five-and-a-half-hour drive ended up being eight, thanks to breaking down on the highway, some fucked-up directions from the yokels, and getting lost three times trying to find the right turnoffs on the unmarked dirt paths that pass for streets up there. I was supposed to meet the band at the farmhouse where they were staying, help them load up and catch a ride with them to the venue. But because I was so late, I was forced to find my own way to the Spoke and meet up with them there.
I’d never seen so many motorcycles in all my life. Driving around town in a Jaguar rather than a chopper elicited strange and unwelcome stares, and made navigating the narrow, crowded roads and finding parking nearly impossible. I finally got to the Spoke around 8 p.m., pushed through the swinging doors and made a beeline for the bar. It was a big place, all wood, with sawdust on the floor and a huge dirt backyard complete with a stage and food and clothing vendors. Finally, after about 30 minutes, I spotted him—a short, grizzled old stoner with a thick platinum-gray mullet, covered from head to toe in denim.
“Dickie?” I asked.
“Bobby?” he questioned back.
“It’s an honor to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand. “Can I get you guys a beer?”
For the next hour or so, we shared a few beers and stories while a rather lame cover band wailed on outside. Meanwhile, it had begun to rain, turning the entire yard into an ankle-deep ocean of slippery, filthy mud. Having come from New York where it was almost 90 degrees, I never imagined that up here in the mountains the temperature would be in the 40s, and had foolishly neglected to bring a jacket, or even a shirt with sleeves. For the next two hours, my elation at seeing my idols perform for the first time was matched by an equal and opposite misery at being entirely soaked, freezing and filthy.
After the show, the plan was for me to follow the guys back to the farmhouse. But unfortunately, as we twisted through the dark muddy backroads, we managed to get separated. Fearing I would soon become hopelessly lost, I turned around and headed back toward the club to try and locate the highway. But apparently, making a K-turn is a major offense in Laconia, because within minutes those dreaded red and blue lights appeared in my rearview. Shit.
I calmly informed the state trooper that the reason I’d been “driving erratically” (and subsequently failed the field sobriety test) was not that I’d consumed two or three beers over the course of five hours, but because I was lost, exhausted, nervous, wet and cold—not to mention that I had a medical condition that caused my hands (and sometimes knees) to shake. For some odd reason, he didn’t believe me.
While being booked at the station, the small bag of nugs unavaoidably fell out of my boot, adding a possession charge to my DUI. As I sat there filling out paperwork, my cell phone rang—it was Dickie.
“Bobby? Hey man…what happened to you?”
“I got arrested.”
“Oh man…that sucks. Well shit… be careful in there, and call me tomorrow if you can.”
First thing the next morning, I posted bail, hoofed it all the way across town to get my car out of impound, and headed for the farm. When I finally arrived, there was Dickie sitting out on the front steps in a bathrobe, sipping a mug of coffee. He stood up, and as I got out of the car, the rest of the band emerged from the house and gave me a big round of applause.
“Well Bobby, looks like you popped your cherry!” he chuckled, slapping me on the back.
“I could really use a cup of that coffee,” I said, “and a big, fat joint.”
“Didn’t they take your weed away?” he asked, puzzled.
“The few little buds in my boot? Yes…” I explained as opened the trunk and pulled out the fat sack of buds buried in my suitcase. “The ounce of NYC Diesel hidden in my bag? No. Now…” I reiterated with a grin as I sat down to roll a joint, “where’s that coffee?”
Live free or die, baby.