Zen and the art of Microbus maintenance — traveling Manning returns to Lake Tahoe | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Zen and the art of Microbus maintenance — traveling Manning returns to Lake Tahoe

Tim Parsons
Jack Kerouac hopped on trains. Dave Manning prefers to travel in his 1965 Volkswagen microbus.

Here’s a switch: Dave Manning’s 1965 Volkswagen microbus is running fine but his Web site needs to be rebuilt.

Manning is the guy from Alaska who travels in his van from town to town playing one-man shows in small bars and clubs. He brings along a well-worn but always-tuned piano which he plays between stories about Alaska and life on the road.

“So a spider walks into a bar …”

Don’t be surprised if you hear one spinning out this way if you happen to be at the Fresh Ketch on Wednesday.

Manning was in Jerome, Ariz., last month for an annual VW bus convention. The mining town has a feeling of the old West. It sits on the side of a steep mountain on highway switchbacks. Almost any window you look out looks down on the roof of the next building down, he said.

Seems like a funny place for a VW bus convention.

“When I was told about it I asked do they have a stall halfway up the mountain selling engines?” said Manning, who missed the slow drag race because he was playing in one of the town’s two bars that afternoon.

Along came a spider

After his show, he walked to the other bar.

“This guy walks up to us with tarantula on his arm,” Manning said. “I thought they kept it in a cage behind the bar and brought it out to freak out the out of towners. He’s half drunk and he’s got this guy crawling up one arm, across his neck and down the other arm.

“I thought it must be somebody’s pet. Then the bartender sees it and says get that thing out of here. It had walked in the bar on its own. I’m trying to think of a punchline.”

Manning, who by the time he was 20 years old had been to each of the Lower 48 states, is an observer of people, an Americana folk artist, Jack Kerouac with a piano. He has a sharp wit, but his delivery is so dry people might miss out on the humor. If the audience isn’t engaged, or perhaps too inebriated, Manning will simply play more piano and keep the stories short.

He was based in Reno for a while, but his girlfriend has moved back to Alaska. So Manning is in the bus full time now. He toured Montana and Idaho over the summer, and played several shows in Tahoe, mostly on the North Shore. Next month he’ll be in the Bay Area.

“What I like best about this whole being on the road thing is I get to see old friends and make new ones,” said Manning, 33, who also earns gas money by tuning pianos.

During a stay in Arizona earlier in the summer, Manning met some folks who let him park on their acre spread for seven days.

Noah of Arizona

He described the owner.

“He’s a scuba instructor which is an odd thing if you’re living in Arizona,” he said. “On top of that, he has a 30-foot boat that he has completely disassembled in the back yard of this place. I call him the Noah of Arizona because he’s building this boat and the nearest water that could actually float that boat is hundreds of miles away, but he’s out there every day working on this boat.”

“Noah of Arizona” sounds like the title for another one of Manning’s songs, but it won’t be on his next CD, which is nearly complete and will be released in a couple of months.

“It’s 79 minutes, 30 seconds long,” he said. “If I’m going to go to all the effort to put out a CD, I’m going to put as much on it as I can on it. Also, if people are going to put out the $14 for my CD I want them to get their moneys worth.”

The album will include six tracks he recorded with his band in Anchorage and three or four with band in Reno.

“The rest is mostly me and the piano,” he said, adding there will be no storytelling on the album. Folks will have to see him live for that.

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