BY BOB KRASNER | The Beatles had their Magical Mystery Tour, The Who sang about the “Magic Bus” and the Merry Pranksters had Furthur, about which the Grateful Dead frequently sang, “The bus came by and I got on, that’s when it all began.”
And now the Abracadabra Field Trip — the brainchild of musician Laura Newman and former “gypsy” Tycho — has the Bluebyrd, a machine that aims for counterculture status as a literal and figurative way of navigating the journey of life.
A number of times each year you can see Newman fronting a band on top of the bus at their usual stops — and occasionally while in motion between destinations. Union Square and Washington Square, the Whitney Museum and Tompkins Square are the favorite spots, where the band plays a mix of ’60s standards and Newman originals from atop the bus while “dancetigators” hit the ground and get people moving. They are frequently joined by members of the Radical Matriarchy, a group that, among other concerns, hopes to desexualize women’s bodies by being topless in public.
Newman, who sang with performance-artist preacher Reverend Billy as the “Diva of the Stop Shopping Choir” for 16 years, wanted to create an experience that was, as she put it, “a portal into a peaceful world.”
“It’s not political — it’s about freedom of expression,” she explained. “We want to create something beautiful out of liberation and playfulness.”
Owned and operated by Tycho a.k.a. “The Bus Daddy,” the converted school bus has been to Burning Man 10 times and has an intriguing history.
“I bought it in 2008 on eBay,” he said. “It was a traveling reptile museum, with the largest king cobra in the U.S. It was well taken care of — nobody wants to break down with a bus full of cobras.”
With the stench of snake feces long gone, the bus is now full of friends, family, performers and the lucky paying customers who bought space on the bus through Airbnb Experiences. Nine year-old Annie got her money’s worth, sitting for glitter makeup (as did her dad) and putting on a costume while the bus was en route to a performance. Gail, from the U.K., thought the whole thing was “fabulous.”
Newman’s mom was onboard, as well, on a day the singer chose to wear an old silk robe of her mother’s, which frequently opened wide to reveal her solidarity with the Matriarchy.
“My husband and I are ‘old hippies,’ so we are probably less affected by the extraneous antics like the partial nudity,” said mom Diana Brady-Herndon. “When I see my only child standing on top of a converted school bus in Lower Manhattan, singing and playing with a great band, I can only feel joy, pride, happiness and a sense of accomplishment for what Laura and the band have created.”
As for Newman, it’s easy for her to sum up the day.
“It’s always a beautiful scene,” she said.
The next trip will be on Sat., June 8.