New Heathens

Wadbuster, PA

I was away in Pennsylvania for about a month and there I got the most extraordinary email. It was from someone wondering why I hadn't blogged in weeks, and it wasn't from my mother.

Musicians need to remember their fans and that email was a good reminder for me not to take mine for granted. My fan, that is. Truth of the matter was I was working pretty hard on an intense assignment. But this blog isn't about work, it's about music (and by "music" I mean "trout" and by "trout" I mean "buffalo.")

Fortunately, music and work intersected in State College, PA.

Friends, I'd like to draw your attention to two world-class musical talents that I met named Ted McCloskey and Molly Countermine. When I first heard Ted and Molly sing together, I was floored. They do this thing with their voices that very few artists are talented enough to pull off. Molly, the female voice, sings the root note of the melodies and Ted, the male voice, sings the harmony part underneath her. It's a sound used by cool veteran artists like Lucinda Williams and Gillian Welch, as well as that great new group The Civil Wars. Not many singers can do it well, and Ted and Molly are about the best I've heard. Plus they have such awesome taste in songs, pulling out nuggets like "When The Stars Go Blue," by Ryan Adams, "Angel From Montgomery" by John Prine, "Baby What You Want Me To Do," by Jimmy Reed plus great, obscure Stones covers like "You Got The Silver" and "Factory Girl" (Factory Girl!) I was astounded that I could be one of a handful of people listening to them for free on a central Pennsylvania schoolnight as opposed to, you know, emptying my pockets to sit in a metropolitan balcony and stare down at them.

And, hey, who wouldn't want to stare at Molly? Here's a picture of her performing with her own group, "Pure Cane Sugar," which features three frontwomen singing in three-part harmony. They do a killer, sultry version of Zep's "Black Dog."

Ted's got his own band too, called Ted McCloskey and the Hi-Fis, which features Molly's husband Rene on bass (see, all great music scenes are like families!) Ted's a guitar whiz, and his group does really cool versions of tunes like "Lovesick" by Bob Dylan, "Down in the Hole" by Tom Waits and "Ball and a Biscuit" by the White Stripes. But his best song is one he wrote called "Stitch by Stitch," which features Molly singing backup harmony. It's on Ted's new album called "Almost Sentimental." Now that I'm the band's biggest fan, I had to make a YouTube splice of both an acoustic and an electric performance of "Stitch by Stitch."

Somehow I managed to luck in to singing with Ted & Molly, so for my entire embed in State College I had places to go and stages to guest on, which I'm very grateful for. One of my colleagues even captured one of my performances. I'm not kidding when I say this is a microphone move I perfected while in journalism school.

Support these two artists, folks! Especially if you live around State College, PA. You don't know how lucky you are to have top-notch talent like this so readily accessible.

I was out in Central Pennsylvania helping to cover the story about Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach accused of sexually molesting young boys. It was a big story and an intense experience. I had three big dogs sicked on me and I had three different people lie to my face. I was threatened by a truck driver and also by a creepy, anonymous latenight phone call.  I was in a riot and I breathed the spray. Angry people called me a bunch of colorful names. I banged on dozens of doors and canvassed a few trailer parks. I barely slept. I don't want to say anything more than what's already been out there, but there were a couple moments in the coverage that stood out.

One was my first riot. This one broke out after Penn State students learned that their beloved football coach Joe Paterno had been fired by the university's Board of Trustees for possibly not going to police with information that one of his former coaches had raped a 10-year-old boy in the school's showers. I watched students tip over this news van and try to light it on fire. Then they tore  down lampposts and street signs and they hurled rocks at cops. The cops responded by hosing everybody with spray. I hacked.

Later I put a lot of shoe leather into a story I was proud of about one of Sandusky's alleged victims. It garnered some pretty intense criticism from the local paper, the Harrisburg Patriot News. Predictable voices piled on the bandwagon. A friend let me know that an anonymous internet poster even paid $1.99 to look up my old addresses and phone numbers and gave instructions to "contact Nate at his house to let him know what a slimeball he is...hope your life turns into a hell worse than that kids."

I was surprised by an editorial in the Washington Post that defended the Times and criticized the Patriot-News for being sanctimonious.

Out of this mudslinging mire the Times managed to land one of the biggest and best scoops I've ever been a part of; an exclusive, extended interview with Jerry Sandusky himself. I snapped this photo at 3 a.m. in the middle of an all-night editing session in a State College hotel room with videographer Rob Harris and reporter extraordinaire Jo Becker, who scored this awesome get.

My favorite thing about my day job are the incredible people I'm lucky enough to get to do journalism with. "Team Times" had an especially good crew out in State College, PA. We worked really well together and we had a lot of fun too. Our boss, editor Joe Sexton, sent out a cool email to all Times online subscribers telling about the paper's Penn State coverage. In it he said some very complimentary things about Team Times, which included Jo Becker, Bill Pennington, Pete Thamel and Mark Viera. Sexton also said this:

"Nate Schweber, one of the most intrepid and brave freelancers, was in his car. I had used Nate on any number of stories when I was Metro editor, from the serial killings of prostitutes in Atlantic City to the attempted subway terror attack of 2009. He'll go anywhere, ask anything, and almost always come back with the goods."

It ain't "Nate Schweber fronts the most amazing rock 'n' roll band on earth!" But as my first "review" from the New York Times, I'll fuckin' take it.

There were a few eyes in the hurricane. One was a fantastic food and music joint called the American Ale House, which produced probably the bulk of the receipts submitted for reimbursement by Team Times. I got off to an auspicious start with the waitstaff after I unknowingly approached them for an interview at a separate bar the first night I was in town. With this painful scandal being less than 48 hours old at that point, the ladies had some rather choice names for this carpetbagging journalist (one rhymed with "mouchemag.") A week later I met Ted and Molly at the Alehouse and sang with them, seemingly to the delight of the servers. Soon it came to be known that the ladies who blasted me the previous week included a couple of the Alehouse's finest waitresses. We laughed good and hard and became great friends. The Alehouse gals even brought out pieces of cake with candles on them for Thamel and me, because we had back-to-back birthdays in the middle of November. Plus, as a Warren Zevon fan, how could I not love a joint with this written above the sandwich offerings on their menu?

I was able to "Montana-down" with a couple new friends who teach in the PSU creative writing department. Also, I was very happy to reconnect with my friend Bill Voigt, the coordinator of Yellowstone's Volunteer Fly Fishing Program, who lives in State College during the off-season. Bill, as you recall, took me to a spot in Yellowstone last summer that I'd long wanted to see, the Pelican Valley.

Bill introduced me to a great Pennsylvania trout stream called The Little Juniata River. It had this for me on my way out of town.

I didn't realize how high-strung I was during my entire stay in Pennsylvania until I got back to New York City and drove into Manhattan traffic (repeat, Manhattan traffic). Only then did I feel the tension ease out of my shoulders.

A few other central Pennsylvania scenes:

Count the number of orange tabby cats in front of this trailer home (one of dozens I door-knocked).

I kinda' dug that someone did this to all the deer crossing signs between Sussex County, NJ and Centre County, PA.

A State College, PA laundromat, of course. 

I ran back to NYC on Thanksgiving, just long enough to play a good Li'l Mo's Field of Stars gig at a cool new venue called "The Treehouse." I had fun playing my songs, I got nice feedback, and I enjoyed jamming with both Sean Kershaw and Tom Clark afterhours. Tom projected a video image the gig on a tall brick building across the street, which was cool. I tried to take a picture of Li'l Mo sitting next to me, and Li'l Mo projected on three stories.

On the subject of of Pennsylvania, Yellowstone, and trout, because of this Penn State madness I was a little tardy in sending edits to Stackpole Books in Mechanicsburg, PA for my manuscript on troutfishing in Yellowstone. But today I submitted the whole, edited draft. It's supposed to be published next summer. Will keep you posted on its progress.

And to keep you posed on the ongoing Yellowstone-bison-relocation-saga that I've been acutely tuned to these past couple years months, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks revised their plan to move healthy, genetically pure, disease-free bison to new ranges in the state. Because ranchers and farmers packed several public meetings and pitched a fit, no longer will Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks recommend moving the bison to either the Spotted Dog or Marias Wildlife Management areas near Deer Lodge and Shelby respectively. However, tribal members stood up at these factitious meetings and said Yellowstone's bison would be welcome with them, and now some of the bison will be moved to both the Fort Peck and Fort Belknap reservations.

Native Americans inviting bison and a bunch of white ranchers and farmers wanting them gone; a fascinating amalgam of 19th and 21st century attitudes.

Whew. That's a proper wadbuster. I'll do anything for my fan.


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  1. Wadbuster, indeed. I followed your work from Penn State…great job.

    It looks like you learned a few moves from Mick in that “Brown Sugar” cover. Smashing.

  2. Whirlwind. Like, like, like. Great work all around, Nate.

  3. Love LOVE your style! Your writing has such a great flow to it. I believe you could not, even at gunpoint, refrain from BEING Mick when the situation calls for it. Beautiful moves, but beautiful in the manner of a fiery car wreck, or perhaps Armageddon.

  4. Awesome, Nate. Just picked up on the fact that it was your shoe leather I was chewing on each day of the Penn-bomb. Nice work. Wayne is proud, I’m sure.

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