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This must be the place: Beg, steal or borrow two nickels or a dime to call me on the phone

The ‘Cosmic Cowboy’ Peter Rowan. (Garret K. Woodward photo) The ‘Cosmic Cowboy’ Peter Rowan. (Garret K. Woodward photo)

Room 424. Marriott City Center. Raleigh. Thursday. Awakened by the sounds of a banjo and laughter in the hallway, the room was pitch black from the curtains still shut high above downtown. The clock stated 9:15 a.m. Emerge from one’s slumber, onward into the impending day.

That evening would be the 33rd annual International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) award show. The yearly culmination of all things involving the “high, lonesome sound.” I’ve been lucky enough to attend it most of the decade I’ve worked for this fine publication. To that, I was again nominated for the IBMA “Writer of the Year.” 

Although I didn’t walk away with the honor, it was nice to be recognized by your peers for all the work you find yourself doing day-in-and-day-out, with journalism such a realm of organized chaos. Each week a shoebox filled with interviews, stories, words, and sentiments. Fill it up and put a lid on it once the work is published. Shove the shoebox into the closet of your memory. Start the process over again come Wednesday morning. 

But, more so, this year’s IBMA award celebration was highlighted by the induction of the “Cosmic Cowboy,” the “Bluegrass Buddha” himself, legendary singer-songwriter Peter Rowan, into the Bluegrass Hall of Fame. At age 80, Rowan is still ricocheting across the country playing numerous gigs — spreading his message of love, compassion and curiosity through his seamless blend of bluegrass, folk, blues, and country music. 

Heading to the award show red carpet at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts (aka: Raleigh Civic Auditorium), it was rhinestones, cowboy hats, black dresses, strong cocktails and cold beers in every direction. The biggest names and rising stars of bluegrass all together, and for one night only. But, my focus was to track down the “Cosmic Cowboy,” to congratulate my old friend on his induction, and to thank him for all the interviews, moments, and memorable performances over the years. 

You see, Peter Rowan was the first interview that I ever conducted and got published. This is truth. Out of the thousands of folks I’ve sat down with, posed questions at and got responses from, Rowan was the starting line of my now 16-year career as a professional journalist. Wild stuff, eh? Believe me, it’s not lost on yours truly — a deep sense of gratitude to be able to do what I absolutely love to do for a living. 

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When I was 21 years old and a senior in college at Quinnipiac University (Hamden, Connecticut), I had just finished a summer internship with a now-defunct publication, State of Mind Music Magazine, up in Burlington, Vermont, just across Lake Champlain from my hometown of Plattsburgh, New York. Heading into the fall semester, I had already gotten my feet wet doing a handful of short album reviews and transcribing interviews for the editors (reel-to-reel tapes, remember those?).

But, now it was the last couple of semester of college, and I wanted to do some bigger things, perhaps a full interview feature — to see for myself just what I was getting into, in pursuing a career as a writer/journalist once I had that degree in-hand. Eventually, the State of Mind publisher asked me who I had in mind to interview. 

Well, at that exact juncture, I had just discovered 1970s bluegrass juggernaut Old & In The Way. Being a lifelong Grateful Dead freak, this was a whole new corner of Jerry Garcia that I’d yet to immerse myself in. Rowan led that band, and I had seen somewhere that he was currently on tour (fall/winter 2006). I suggested Rowan and got the green light for the assignment. 

Cruising up to the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, Massachusetts, in a poignant cold November rainstorm in New England, I met Rowan, soon sitting down in the musty basement dressing room. It was a surreal experience. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew what I wanted to sincerely ask him, and do so with your research done beforehand and your attention solely on the subject (that’s the whole point of journalism in a nutshell, anyhow).

Once that four-page interview was published by State of Mind, and I could finally see my by-line under Rowan’s name in the headline, this feeling of excitement and passion radiated from my heart and soul — I knew right then and there that all I ever wanted to do was track down interesting subjects, interview them, and share their stories with readers far and wide.

That first interaction with Rowan was almost 16 years ago. I’m 37 now, with Rowan turning 80 in July. Since that night at the Iron Horse, I’ve crossed paths and interviewed him a couple dozen times. A festival in Florida. The Cataloochee Ranch in Maggie Valley. MerleFest. Backstage at the Flynn Theater in Vermont. And a handful of times at the IBMA awards. Rowan even wrote the foreword for my 2017 book, “If You Can’t Play, Get Off the Stage: Bluegrass in Western North Carolina and Beyond.”

Each time Rowan and I grab a chair and catch-up, it’s always genuine and meaningful. And, like clockwork, he’ll mention that cold, rainy fall night in Northampton, how young I was, and how he was somewhat too tired to talk, but he liked me and my energy, so he entertained my questions — an eternal friendship forever solidified through the sands of time, and place.

Thus, when I was at the IBMAs last Thursday night, I spotted Rowan getting interviewed in a quiet corner of the auditorium, away from the loud cocktail hour and musicians warming up in the next room. There he was, the ole “Cosmic Cowboy.” Once the film crew finished up, I sauntered over to him. We made eye contact and his eyes lit up. Mine did, too. With a handshake and a hug, we were reunited one more time — I missed my friend.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

Leave a comment


  • I enjoyed reading your walk down memory land. It was very interesting, Garret

    posted by Merrilee bordeaux

    Monday, 10/17/2022

  • I enjoyed reading your walk down memory land. It was very interesting, Garret

    posted by Merrilee bordeaux

    Monday, 10/17/2022

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