MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And now we have this unusual sound from a musical road tour.
(Soundbite of bicycles)
At 8:00 a.m. on a recent morning, a duo called The Ditty Bops hopped on bikes and pedaled out of Madison, Wisconsin. Amanda Barrett and Abby Dewald had played a show the night before. On this day they would ride 90 miles to Milwaukee for their next show.
(Soundbite of The Ditty Bops)
BLOCK: The Ditty Bops are out of Los Angeles. They're spending the summer touring by bicycle from California to New York. Their music is a retro mix -cabaret jazz, vaudeville, western swing. Amanda, on mandolin, dulcimer and washboard. Abby on acoustic guitar. And their act includes lots of costumes and props.
Ms. AMANDA BARRETT (Musician, The Ditty Bops): We have a skeleton. We have a coffin. We have a fire-breathing dragon. We have some roller skates. We have -
Ms. ABBY DEWALD (Musician, The Ditty Bops): A pagoda.
Ms. BARRETT: Moustaches. Wigs.
Ms. DEWALD: Fake lashes.
Ms. BARRETT: Really, really ugly, hideous long red wigs.
BLOCK: Along their bike tour, strangers have become friends, inviting the band in for a home-cooked meal or to do laundry and sometimes riding along with The Ditty Bops.
Ms. BARRETT: The bike tour started out just as a ridiculous idea and we immediately thought that a ridiculous idea is always a good idea, and we set out to pull it off.
(Soundbite of The Ditty Bops)
Ms. BARRETT: We have little packs on our bikes that we carry daily needs like water, little snacks. And we have a van that runs on biodiesel. It has our gear in it. It has our piano player in it and all of our camping equipment, props, costumes, etcetera.
BLOCK: What's the longest ride you've done so far?
Ms. BARRETT: One hundred and thirteen miles during the Nevada desert was the longest ride.
BLOCK: Wow. You've also been on parts of this tour going right through that heat wave that we had across a lot of the country.
Ms. DEWALD: That was pretty tough. That was actually -
Ms. BARRETT: Yeah, we were probably in one of the worst places to be. We were in Kansas. It was about 106, 108. Abby experienced heat exhaustion during that portion of the trip. It was really intense. And we've been also chased by dogs pretty much daily, which is not fun.
THE DITTY BOPS (Singing): Hey, there, little man. Get out of my frying pan. I've bigger fish to fry than you. Bigger fish to fry than you. High time to listen to me. I choose my battles carefully, so get out of here, son. Let me show you the door. You'll be in trouble then by the time I count to four. One, two, three, four. Bang.
BLOCK: You know, what I don't understand is how you can pull into town after a long bike ride in the heat like that and then amp up for a live show that night.
Ms. DEWALD: Yeah, towards the beginning we had a lot of energy. Once the heat wave in Kansas happened, we haven't been looking for additional shows. We're pretty much trying to muster the energy to do the shows we already have booked.
Ms. BARRETT: You'll have nights like one day in Lucas, Kansas, where right up until the show I was just like laying in my bed, cursing that we had agreed to do an outdoor show. Got over to the show and I actually had a really good time even though it was over 100 degrees outside and we'd already ridden our bikes like 60 miles that day. You can't really plan on anything. That's what we figured out.
THE DITTY BOPS (Singing): Bang.
BLOCK: You know, Amanda, the story is out there that you also will occasionally eat fire on stage. Do you want to put that rumor to rest?
Ms. BARRETT: I should. Well, I like rumors on occasion. That's a good one because it makes us sound so entertaining.
THE DITTY BOPS (Singing): You're (unintelligible) with (unintelligible) there. You're making it all so smooth, you're in love with this stuff.
Ms. BARRETT: My dad did teach me to eat fire when I was a teenager. He does that. He's a clown and variety entertainer. I have not tried it since I was 18.
BLOCK: But you could?
Ms. BARRETT: A little bit too scary. I could just as well as probably you could. I mean, I know some of the technique but it's a dangerous thing and I'm just not interested in catching my face on fire at the moment.
THE DITTY BOPS (Singing): You're such a pretty doll, how would you (unintelligible) too small. You're heads are pretty tall (unintelligible).
BLOCK: When you thought about going out on bikes, were you thinking about boy, you know, piling into a big van, pulling up to a motel, 10:00 at night, that's just really not what we want to do? We want to do things our own way?
Ms. DEWALD: Yeah, exactly. I mean on the last two years of touring we'd get to go straight to the venue, do our sound check, try to get some food close by and usually depart from the city right after the show, so no matter how many times we've gone across the country in the past touring, we haven't seen very much. And we wanted to see it this time. So going by bike, slowing our pace down, has really been the way to go to see the country and meet the communities of people who live in those towns.
BLOCK: Well, Amanda Barrett and Abby Dewald, thanks for talking with us and have a good time on the rest of the tour.
Ms. BARRETT: Thank you so much.
Ms. DEWALD: Thank you.
BLOCK: Amanda Barrett and Abby Dewald are The Ditty Bops. Their cross-country bike tour ends in New York on August 30.
THE DITTY BOPS (Singing): I've got a chip on my shoulder, and a halo on my head. I'm an angel with an attitude, my favorite color's red.
BLOCK: You can listen to more songs and check out The Ditty Bops tour blog at our web site, NPR.org.