There is a palpable spirit living it up in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
Like any interesting spirit it has layers. It is culture and it is music which have been mixed in with catastrophic geological events staged on a precarious hillside.
This town “happened” to us. We had followed our own yellow brick road meant to loop us through cities around North America and get us back home in a year, but our stop in Eureka Springs almost side railed us and brought us to a more permanent stop.
We parked at a small campsite outside of town which was in the midst of thawing out from winter. We had spent the prior month in towns across Texas and even made a trip to Costa Rica for our friend’s wedding. With so much heat and sun at our heels, we gladly received the chilly air and a camping spot amongst the pine trees.
Before our first night out, a longtime patron of the campsite gave us the heads up that we would meet, “a lot of gays.” After one of those “hmmm” pursed lip nods, I offered for him to join us for a night out, with the guarantee there was nothing to fear. It was Friday though and he declined noting his night had begun a few High Life’s ago.
With high expectations, we drove into town and were instantly entranced. With no pressing arrangements, we worked our way through the maze of narrow streets, passing multiple story high buildings constructed on an ominously sloped hillside. On a slow roller coaster of sorts, we took in the hodgepodge of buildings, store signs and eclectic window displays. The street facades are in line with the more familiar French Quarter in New Orleans with ornate iron balconies dripping with decorations for the upcoming Mardi Gras Celebration.
The history of the town includes a landslide, leaving a previous world buried yet reachable. During our time we took a quick tour and made our way to the underground. A world in it of itself that spurred questions about the life and events that may still take place, secret, scandalous and far from the knowledge of nosy tourists like me. For our first night though we indulged in the less secret and rather famous night life of Eureka Springs. Band after band, making our way from a café to a bar, with the same crowd who came to see their town favorites. We met several people, who in the style of southern hospitality brought us into the fold and let us tag along, telling us the history of the bands and how important the music culture is in Arkansas. I suppose it is in each state, but I could tell it is was unique and special here. As a musician, I felt a magnetic draw to the town. This draw was strong enough to pull me out of my shy hole and sit me on a bench to busk in the city square the following day, a slow quiet Sunday. My guitar case was open and I worked harder than I ever have for $8 dollars in change which bought me two spectacular coffees after all was said and done. Very worth it.
For our remaining time we wondered the town, up and down steep streets and steps with music escaping from bars providing a sort of soundtrack. Street art punctuates the historical city buildings, present and past using one another for life and continuation.
Its places like this that is the point to why we travel. We have often felt lost, where the question “why are we doing this” becomes heavy. We want to know what is special about our country. Not every town resonates with us, some feel bleak and lifeless. Sometimes we feel guilt for not loving a place we were told we would. Fortunately, in Eureka Springs we found a pot of gold. It’s really a profound sense when you have zero expectations and yet you fall in love. From nothing to everything.