When I left Washington, D.C. in 2010 after a 30-year career in government, and fled to the provinces – setting up a new home in Staunton, VA – I sought to make a clean, symbolic break that might go beyond just throwing out my ties and stiff shirts.
I decided to go with cowboy boots as my signal that I had been liberated from sensible shoes, black and brown oxfords, and constraining ban-lon socks.
I’d seen and admired these boots at all sorts of old time festivals, especially Clifftop. There, of course, cowboy boots -- probably just “boots” to most people -- are an irreducible fact of life for everyone, and I’d seen my far share of banjo players booted up.
Boots had crept into the inventory of stylish affects in our capital city, but the last time I had worn cowboy boots or anything like them was when I gave into Frye boots in high school, a fancy that didn’t last much beyond the first year of college where loafers and construction boots made more sense.
This time I tossed my modest inventory of business meeting shoes away and replaced them with a range of Tony Lama boots, the occasional pair of Justins, and a vintage pair or two when the opportunity presented itself.
I recall strolling into a hardware store here in Staunton on the first day we moved in, me in my retiree uniform – jeans, a baseball cap, a t-shirt and boots. I opened the door to that honest to goodness old fashioned hardware store and saw the entire clientele, and the whole store staff, dressed in that same exact uniform. I’m home, I thought.
To me, boots and banjos go together. Not sure exactly why. I mean, it doesn’t seem right to play old time music wearing Florsheim Dockers (though I’m sure it’s done and is physically possible). There’s probably no unwritten rule suggesting one can’t strap on a banjo while wearing Thom McAn Men’s Norris Oxford walking shoes. I admit this is an affectation. I am a New York City born banjo player, so P.F. Flyers and Keds came more naturally to me than boots.
But boots just feel more right to me.
I did want to point out, for any booted banjo types in BHO land, that I recently hauled a vintage pair of Lama boots to Graham’s Shoe Service in Waynesboro, VA. Dave, who runs the store with his daughter Yvonne – banjo content: Yvonne plays the banjo uke – is an artist. He can make anything involving leather look brand spanking new. One can count on running into motorcycle club members bringing in their leather jackets and riding chaps, and all manner of Good Old Boys queuing up to drop off their favorite old boots.
During this last trip Dave told me that he recently received a package from somewhere in Texas containing some beautiful boots in need of repair. He scratched his head, and called the sender. “Why,” he asked, “would a guy from Texas ship boots to Virginia for repair?” Dave phoned the owner, and put that question to him. The Texan told Dave that the last boot repair guy had retired out of the business, leaving the entire county without a good leather man.
So, for those of you looking for a miracle worker, that’s Dave c/o Graham’s Shoe Service, 202 Arch Avenue, Waynesboro, VA 22980. (540) 943-7463.
Mandatory banjo content follows: