Jay Meehan: Block n Tackle, Ernie and Defa’s
"Old friends, they shine like diamonds!"
~ Guy Clark
As a fly on the wall at the final rehearsal of the original "Block and Tackle" band as they prepared for this weekend’s gigs up at Defa’s, gazing into the rearview mirror just came naturally. Having first formed 30 years ago as an impromptu weekend act at the Beaver Creek Inn, who knew these honky-tonk angels would become such a large part of our cultural fabric?
The skin enveloping our town felt less sterile back then. More textured. Less ceramic, as it were. All of the dust had yet to be swept away and a few of the floors still creaked. Its quaintness, however, was relative. Time was very much in flux.
When they were invited to play the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, we all thought that was a pretty big deal. But nothing really prepared us for their longtime association with local "happening" impresario Ernie "the Breadman" Scow. Ernie’s demo-derbys, rodeos, and "Sunday Service" gatherings at his property out on Rasmussen Road set the standard.
A standard, as it turned out, that Summit County couldn’t live with. Counter-cultural residuals, I suppose, played a part. And lack of facilities and parking issues and loud, loud music (yup!). The game was afoot! With the county breathing down their neck, where would Ernie and his flock next take their act?
Why, up the North Fork of the Duchesne, not far from where it emerges from the South Slope of the High Uintas Wilderness. Defa’s Dude Ranch! That’s where! There would have to be some downsizing, of course. Maybe an annual weekend powwow where the faithful rent all the cabins, haul up campers, and pitch tents.
The biggest draw of all, of course, would be dancing the nights away to Block n Tackle in the Saloon, not to mention Saturday’s huge recovery potluck at the Pavilion. Not that hiking into Granddaddy Basin from the Grandview Trailhead isn’t about as cool as it gets. There’s just something about the border-crossing feeling at the end of the road on the cusp of wilderness.
As most all are aware, we lost Ernie about a decade or so back. The organizational chores were then picked up by Block n Tackle’s extended family, including its offshoot band, the Barfly Wranglers. With that in mind, this weekend’s 24th annual Ernie’s Powwow at Defa’s will feature a couple of rather poignant sidebars.
The first being that, more than likely, this gathering will mark the end of the run at Defa’s that Ernie and Block n Tackle began back in the day. And secondly, as they mark the 30th anniversary of their founding, it will also be the band’s final gig.
The fact that the original five members haven’t gotten together much over the past 15 years doesn’t make the news any easier to digest, although side projects and offshoots no doubt will sprout up as time goes on. But that is not to say that this weekend won’t signify the end of an era.
What a gas it was to be in the band’s presence as they deconstructed and reassembled as many of their old tunes and arrangements as they could pull out of their collective hats.
It’s the lineup, of course, and the times they have shared. "Buffalo Joe" Jeffs and Tommy Martinez and Mark Jolley and Scott Larsen and Don Elliott bonding together once again to pay tribute to their musical pasts and the epic traditions of Ernie Scow. Holy Cow!
The North Fork of the Duchesne has been a special place over the years for many of us who fell under Ernie’s spell. It’s where we have chosen to scatter ashes of friends who, for the most part, passed too soon. And it’s where we have returned year after year to support the musical traditions of Block n Tackle and the Barfly Wranglers.
And now, as Ernie’s Powwows at Defa’s come to a close, how cool and proper and fitting it is that the original Block n Tackle band reunites to pay tribute to what has been a great run by a great bunch of friends. Twenty-four years in the wink of a breadman’s eye.
Late autumn at elevation lends itself to reverie. The colors are out and maybe even the Aspen grove "heart" might be flaunting its wares. Whatever we find, it promises to be a beautiful weekend in the woods. Over the years, we’ve learned how to do it. We’ve honed our chops and the dance floor’s waiting. Thanks to Geno Defa! Thanks to Ernie Scow! And thanks to the Block n Tackle band! You’ve all taught us well!
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.
A group of Old Town residents say in a letter to the editor that Park City is better off leaving land on Marsac Avenue as open space than developing it into affordable housing.