Belles on Wheels

The Ditty Bops bike tour finally ends, 4,500 jittery and often moonlit miles later

What a sight—two pinups sitting on lawn chairs underneath a fake palm tree inside an Ace Hardware in Kansas City. Imagine the awkward pickup lines they must inspire.

Excuse me, ladies, but I'm in need of a giant . . . wood screw. Can you . . . point me in the right direction?

Save it, pal. We're lovers. It took Amanda Barrett and Abby DeWald, otherwise known as the Ditty Bops, a month to travel 2,500 miles north from Los Angeles through California and then east to Middle America. On. Their. Bicycles. They will have pedaled another 2,000 miles when the tour—in support of their old-time jazz and folk sophomore disc Moon Over the Freeway—concludes under a big-top tent at South Street Seaport. Meanwhile, their backing band and instruments get to ride in a biodiesel van.

The Bops say the bike tour isn't a premeditated ploy to hype the album—its timeless bursts of dreamlike melodies tickled with playful lyrics, songbird harmonies, and ollie-on-a-dime musicianship stand on their own—even though the title track prophesies their journey: "Moon over the freeway/Catch us as we ride/We just left the city/Left it far behind."

Nope. Serendipity had a hand in this one.

"What happened was I had just had Chinese food," explains guitarist DeWald, over the phone, under the palm tree. "And I opened up this fortune cookie, and it said, 'There is a serious ride in your future.' It just came to me: the bike tour."

"We didn't have any summer plans," adds mandolinist, washboardist, and former model Barrett. "And we knew that we'd have to go out and support the new record, so . . . "

The duo's, uh, good fortune also includes a SXSW set two years ago that scored them guest appearances on A Prairie Home Companion. Like that radio show's biscuit-lovin' ringleader, Garrison Keillor, the Bops have created a microcosm in which to deliver their theater. In it they dress like pirates or flappers or whatever's en vogue at the thrift store, use Photoshop to insert themselves into other people's lives on their website (dittybops.com), and author their own On the Road via a bike tour blog that includes their daily food intake down to the soybean. They even sell a calendar featuring them clad in risqué numbers while acting out imaginations from the realm of Matthew Barney.

But the bike tour is soberly real. A heat wave, barreling semis, the uncertainty of arriving at gigs on time . . . what else can catch them as they ride? "Dogs that bark at us when we're riding at four in the morning are definitely scary," Barrett admits.

Same goes for dudes angling for a screw.


The Ditty Bops play Spiegeltent Wednesday night, 10 p.m., $15 ($2 off with a bike helmet), spiegelworld.com.

 
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