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Indian Summer: Guitars, easels turn 4,000-mile trip in ice cream truck into an adventure

Amanda Stanaway, Ameila Stanaway and Jen Harlow get a close-up view of the country


by: SUBMITTED PHOTO -  Jen Harlow, Amelia Stanaway and Amanda Stanway make a stop in Malibu, Calif., last fall for a art and music performance on the platform of a renovated ice cream truck. Last fall, three Sherwood residents completed an eye-opening, cross-country trip performing concert/art demonstrations that not only included in a close-up look at the beauty and hospitality of the country but also a fair share of interesting twists and turns.

By the time their adventure was over, they would have car trouble four times, make an appearance in a documentary film, find out that one of the trio’s best friends was dying and have an encounter with a ghost.

All that happened while performing atop a platform bolted to the roof of a renovated ice cream truck that took them on their 4,000-mile journey.

On Sept. 1, Amanda Stanaway, a musician and social entrepreneur, and artist Jen Harlow (along with Stanaway’s 8-year-old daughter Amelia) took off on their two-month visual and musical “Indian Summer Tour.”

“We did 55 shows in 60 days,” Harlow noted.

For Stanaway, commandeering and retrofitting the 11-foot-long GMC box van was years in the making.

“Having an ice cream truck and going across the country is something I dreamed about 10 years ago,” said Stanaway, noting that she put the trip on hold with the arrival of her daughter Amelia.

But not long ago, Stanaway revitalized that dream and began fixing up the ice cream truck, putting about $3,500 into the truck but adding nothing more luxiourous than a food freezer and wood-pained windows.

In preparation for her live performance painting, Harlow wedged 60 pre-primed canvesses into every nook and cranny in the vehicle.

Harlow said it took awhile for her to learn how to navigate the ice cream truck but caught on after a few lessons.

“Whenever I got honked at or yelled at, I turned on the ice-cream tunes,” said Harlow, who owns Blue Plume art studio, located on a 90-acre farm in Scholls.

Following a sendoff concert in Sherwood, the women headed to Salem to perform for Wes and Dorothy Ross, former owners of the iconic South Store Café on Scholls Ferry Road. Stanaway previously owned the café building but sold it the day before her trip.by: COURTESY OF JEN HARLOW - Even a breakdown in the Arizona desert wasn't enough to keep Amanda Stanaway from playing her guitar until driving to a nearby repair shop.

Watching Stanaway’s singing and Harlow’s live performance painting, Wes Ross dubbed the act, “creative/weird,” something Stanaway took as a compliment.

The trio’s first performance concerts were in California. Along the way, they stopped at Expressions Recording studio in Emeryville, Calif., to record six or seven songs for Stanaway’s upcoming album.

“It will be out in the next few months,” said Stanaway about the album that includes vocals from Harlow. Stanaway said earlier that she had discovered Harlow “was a closet singer and had a beautiful voice.”

At first Stanaway and Harlow were anxious before they performed, something that gradually diminished.

“We got to a place where we weren’t nervous anymore,” said Harlow. “I painted to the beat so it almost became like a dance.’

The women’s performance platform doubled as a makeshift bedroom where they often slept under the stars. Other times they would stay in homes or the occasional hotel.

Both agreed that one of their favorite performances occurred in Winslow, Ariz., at La Posada, a famous Harvey Hotel where they performed in front of a large fireplace.

“It was probably the most beautiful architecture we played at,” noted Harlow.

UFO fun

Other venues proved more offbeat such as the UFO Museum in Roswell, N.M., where Stanaway even updated the words to some of her songs to fit in with an athmosphere of fun for UFO seekers.

At the end, the museum purchased an alien-inspired painting by Harlow.

Ultimately, the trip took them to Californaia, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (several times), Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennesee, Kentucky, West Virgina, Delaware and even Washington, D.C., where they ended up playing in front of the White House.

The first break-down of the ice cream truck occurred outside Winslow, Ariz., and lasted four hours.

“We were out there for two hours, and nobody stopped,” said Stanaway, pointing out that they had no cellular service either.

So what did they do during that time?

“We sang and we painted,” said Stanaway.

In the end, they let the vehicle cool before driving it to O’Haco Tire & Auto where a sympathetic mechanic named Todd, who along with two other mechanics, spent five hours working to get the truck back into running c

While those ghosts weren’t around at the time, something strange did happen when they reached the 1886 Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Ark., ranked as one of the most haunted hotels in America.ondition, charging them only $67.50 for the work.

At one point a film crew out of Los Angeles knocked on the door of the ice cream truck asking the women if they’d be interested in appearing in a documentary about travel sponsored by the electric car company Tesla Motors Inc. The crew filmed for 3 1/2 hours.

“We did a set (of art and music) and then they interviewed us, asked us specific questions,” said Stanaway. So what were the reactions from those they came into contact with?

Some were comments regarding kind of a “wow factor,” recalled Harlow.

by: COURTESY OF JEN HARLOW - Jen Harlow, Amelia Stanaway (middle, bottom) and Amanda Stanaway perform atop the ice cream truck they took on a cross country trip last fall.“This is so weirdly fascinating, but it works,” Harlow said some audience members commented.

One of the highlights, said Stanaway was that she got to meet her great-aunt who lives in Olive Hill, Ky., who told fascinating stories about Stanaway’s great-grandfather. There they played at the family’s bed and breakfast, the Driscoll House, where four ghosts are said to live.

It was at the Crescent Hotel that Stanaway discovered that one of her best friends from childhood, Abbey Rios, was extremely sick.

“I knew it was going to be terminal and I knew it was going to be fast,” said Stanaway. “I always called her my ‘yang.’ She’s my other half.”

Stanaway took it very hard, especially since her 36-year-old friend had just given birth to a baby girl.

She said when she went to the third floor of the hotel to try out a song, she encountered a strange energy.

Harlow said the two were singing a song on that same floor when she felt like someone was pouring sand down the back of her shirt. Then she felt a shove as she was going up the stairs, something knocked her to the floor and she cut her hand even though no one else was around.

Rios’ sickness resulted in the women crossing Texas three times before finally leaving the ice cream truck with friends before Stanaway and her daughter flew to Tacoma, Wash., to say goodbye to her sick friend. Harlow stayed with friends in Texas. A song written by Stanaway commerates Rios’ life.

The trio reunited a for a brief time and eventually left the ice cream truck with friends in Woodstock, N.Y. Stanaway said she plans to someday retrieve the vehicle and has had interest from other musicians who want to take a roadtrip in it.

Walmart trip

Another interesting incident occurred in Texas, where Stanaway, who has been a staunch opponent of the planned Sherwood Walmart, had to suspend her opposition temporarily after developing a fungal infection.

“I contacted ringworm in Texas, and there was only one place to shop,” said Stanaway. “It was my first-ever purchase at Walmart.”

Harlow said she thinks they have enough stories from the trip to make into a movie.

“I feel like our story, told start to finish, could be a blockbuster,” said Harlow.by: COURTESY OF JEN HARLOW - Yup, this is the painting that Jen Harlow sold to the UFO Museum in Roswell, N.M. during a trip across the country.

In fact, Harlow discussed the journey with a Los Angeles screenwriter who seemed interested.

Stanaway said both of them have talked about writing a book based on their adventures as well.

“There are a couple of harrowing stories we don’t know how to tell,” said Stanaway, who kept a hand-written journal of the tour.

Harlow said she learned a lot during the journey, including the fact that many people across the country permanently call KOA Kampgrounds home.

“It was something we had to do in our lives,” said Harlow, who said the randomness of the trip was outside her comfort zone. “We kept saying how sacred it was.”

Stanway added, “I think for me the biggest learning thing (was)... that the life that happens is really so much more important than anything else.”

It even came into sharper focus when she was visiting her sick friend.

“Even the worst things that happened worked out,” said Stanaway. “I hope in the end we’re better, kinder people.”




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