For Moab resident Gigi Love, it all started 10 years ago with a mandolin and a song. Love, a songwriter and musician, was performing in Yosemite National Park when a rock climber offered to sell her his mandolin in exchange for gas money. Love says she bought it and immediately walked into a meadow and wrote her first song about America’s national parks: “Yosemite Gold.”
Since then, her passion for the parks has only grown. During a celebration of the National Park Service’s centennial at Grand Canyon National Park last year, Love was approached by Jim Miculka, the director of the Trails and Rails program for the NPS, and Eric Smith, Amtrak’s director of long-distance routes. They offered her a unique chance to perform aboard the Coast Starlight, an Amtrak route that travels from Los Angeles, California, to Seattle, Washington.
Love says she was thrilled by the opportunity. Love wrote in a blog post that she’s spent years, “dreaming and wishing I could go back in time, when folks jumped the trains and went from town to town telling stories and making friends.”
She spent six days round-trip on the Coast Starlight, and during that time, Love says she performed three times a day.
“There were people from all over the country and all over the world on this train, the Coast Starlight. It was a global village and they were all so happy to be entertained,” she wrote on her blog. “It was an acoustic setting. It was really intimate, and I just loved it.”
The hardest part was learning to keep her balance as the train car swayed beneath her.
“I had to get my train legs fastened on,” she said, but the passengers “made for a great audience.”
“There’s no internet service, so they’re pretty much a captive audience,” Love said. “All the people were so nice. I made so many friends on that trip.”
After the Coast Starlight trip Love was offered the chance to be the National Park Service’s first “Trails and Rails Troubadour.” The program is a partnership among Amtrak, the National Park Service, and Texas A&M University’s Department of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Sciences and was founded in 2000 “to educate travelers on the natural resources and heritage of a specific region while traveling by rail. This is the first time a musician has joined the crew of volunteers to help tell the national park story,” according to a news release.
For Love, it’s an opportunity to share her love for the planet through her music.
“I’m hoping to help bring awareness to things like climate change, and even just the basics of having clean water for everyone,” she said.
Throughout 2017, Love will hop on board and share her songs with passengers on Amtrak trains along routes that travel near national parks. Those routes include the Empire Builder, the Coast Starlight, and the Sunset Limited. Love said the dates will be listed on her website: www.gigilove.com.
“It’s going to be really fun,” she said, adding that she will also hold performances inside the parks. Those performances might take place in the visitor centers or coincide with the park ranger programs.
“There are so many amphitheaters that are always empty,” she said. “I have thought for years that those would be great places to play.”
Because Love is the first Trails and Rails Troubadour, she’s figuring out what the position entails as things move along, she said.
“It’s exciting to get this operational and to create something for arts and the parks and for future generations,” she said. “It’s turning into more than I could have ever dreamed. It lit a fire under me to get out and share something positive that I feel passionate about.”
Love said Moab is her home base, so in addition to traveling on the rails she’ll also be performing locally. Her CD “National Parks Centennial Songs” is available at Back of Beyond Books.
Love said that overall, she hopes to inspire others.
“People take 1,000 pictures of the Grand Canyon at sunset,” she said. “I’m hoping to inspire people to write 1,000 songs. Because everyone has a unique perspective.”