Two of Oregon’s finest exports, Deschutes Brewery Beer and Portland indie music, have joined forces to help preserve stream flows in the Deschutes River through a recently launched project, Deschutes River Recordings. Eric D. Johnson of the Fruit Bats is featured in the first video release performing a cover of The Byrds’ “Ballad of Easy Rider.” The song was chosen from suggestions by fans of Deschutes Beer, and Johnson’s version is almost entirely unrecognizable from the original, except that he is true to the lyrics: “The river flows, down to the sea, just where that river flows is where I want to be, so flow river, flow. Let your waters wash down, and take me from this road, to some other town.”
Where The Byrds’ original sounds like a road song, with a catchy melody and skippy finger-style guitar patterns, Johnson’s is soulful and mournful; he channels the longing for freedom and escape in a way that is more timely to this era, an era when stories like Easy Rider are just a cliché, and when finding a clean river to float down is no easy task.
The song was recorded on the banks of the Deschutes; the sounds of whistling birds and gurgling water create a natural backdrop to Johnson’s soundscape. He layers his voice and keyboards with shimmering electric overtones and walkie talkie echos and harmonies.
Watch the video below and download the track here. It’s free, but you are encouraged to donate to the Deschutes River Conservancy (DRC), the Central Oregon non-profit featured in 1859 this past spring. Over the past fifteen years the DRC has worked to take flows in the Deschutes River from 30 cubic feet to 150, using a progressive model based on consensus and incentives. Supporting their cause will continue to help preserve flows in the Deschutes for generations to come.
Upcoming Deschutes River Recordings will feature Eric Earley (of Blitzen Trapper) and Laura Gibson. Overall, these recordings offer an inventive approach to river preservation—and marketing beer, for that matter.