Tour de U.S.A.
While training for a three-month bicycle tour across the country, The Ditty Bops vocalist and guitarist Abby Dewald was hit by a car.
“It was very slow motion. Abby was going slow, and the car was going slow,” said Amanda Barrett, a vocalist, mandolin and dulcimer player for the The Ditty Bops vaudeville duo. “It was scary because she got knocked on the hood of the car, but it was more like a warning tap.”
Dewald and Barrett decided to bike across the country because they thought it would be ridiculous – and less draining than bus travel. They certainly didn’t anticipate seeing so much road kill.
“It’s really sad. I did not expect to see this quantity of dead animals,” Barrett said. “Cars are dangerous things.”
But dead animals aren’t the only interesting things they find on the side of America’s highways.
“We’ve seen stuffed animals, hair brushes, toilet brushes and lots of car parts and things like that,” Barrett said, adding that nothing was as interesting as a hair scrunchie they stumbled upon.
The duo use the things they find along the way to inspire the themes of their shows.
“We work off the cuff. If we find something in an object in the town or something entertaining us at the moment, we’ll use it as a theme,” Barrett said. “And we like to work with people on the road. We invite people to do karaoke and dance. You don’t have to be a puppeteer to be involved.”
Barrett’s performance career was passed down from her parents. Her father taught her how to eat fire when she was 16; it’s an act she no longer performs.
“It’s too dangerous. There are actual tricks to it and you have to know what you are doing,” Barrett said. “My father has caught different parts of his face and arms on fire. It’s not the safest line of work.”
Barrett’s mother taught her how to play the fretted dulcimer when she was 8, and Barrett incorporates it into The Ditty Bops’ music.
“It is an Appalachian resonating instrument played with a single pick or strummed with a feather that got somewhat popular in the ’60s and ’70s,” Barrett said.
The instrument helps produce their unique sound, described by many as eclectic ragtime folk rock.
“I kind of leave it to others to describe,” Barrett said. “I’m not so good at describing it myself. We just try out things.”
One month into their experimental bike tour, they are going wherever the wind takes them – literally.
“Wind has been one of the hardest things to deal with,” Barrett said. “But this is a fun project, and it is a creative outlet for us.”
Traveling across the country has already taught them one important thing.
“It’s weird – the country we’ve seen is big and has vast expanses but is also smaller, because we’ve already ridden to Utah by bicycle,” Barrett said. “It makes the world a little bit smaller.”
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