On the road again

features- Erik Friedlander's father, photographer Lee Friedlander, took many photos of his family when they traveled cross-country every summer. (photo credit: Lee Friedlander)

Ah, the family summer vacation.

Mom and Dad enjoying time with the kids away from the stress of everyday life. Picture perfect postcard moments on rustic campgrounds or tropical beaches. Learning from the placards of historical facts at the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone National Park or Mount Rushmore.

Or -- long hours in a car with a broken air conditioner. Miles away from friends, pools and Popsicles. The endless holding still for the camera in front of the latest travel icon.

Cellist Erik Friedlander is as familiar with family vacations as one can get. During his childhood and teen years, Friedlander drove cross country with his family every summer, all summer. The 2 1/2 months of travel weren't always easy.

"I definitely had some issues being dragged out on the road when I was 16, 17 years old," he said. "We have all these pictures of me just kind of disgruntled. If you could see eye rolling in a picture, you would see it here."

But now, he has turned his memories into art.

"Block Ice & Propane," musical reflections on the Friedlander family vacations, opens at the Spoleto USA Festival today in the Memminger Auditorium. Photos by Friedlander's father, award- winning photographer Lee Friedlander, and video by Friedlander's friend, director Bill Morrison, accompany the Americana-inspired solo cello compositions Friedlander performs.

Lee Friedlander's photos play a central role in Friedlander's story -- his father's work was the reason they traveled.

"I've been looking at these pictures so many years that it's hard to know where my memory picks up and they drop off," he said. "I notice with my daughter, who's 11, that the videos of herself as a kid, she starts substituting them for memories."

While he began performing "Block Ice & Propane" only last summer, Friedlander said audiences have strong responses to it.

"People all have stories of their own family trips, and so the reactions I get range from, 'Oh gosh, I did that,' to, 'I remember when my father would pile us into the station wagon,' " Friedlander said. "For me, it was a pickup truck with a camper shell on top."

Friedlander expresses a common American experience, and on Friday morning in Marion Square, those with similar memories weren't hard to find.

Tony David, a baseball coach visiting Charleston with his family for the Southern Conference Baseball Tournament, recalls playing the "ABC game" to pass the time on long car trips. His daughters, Peyton, 5, and Addison, 3, amuse themselves another way.

"Our oldest could drive across the country because of the wonderful invention of movies in the back seat," David said. "I couldn't imagine it now driving eight hours without them having something occupy them."

As the girls gathered leaf bouquets, David said he and his wife, Bethany, try to video or take pictures of important moments. But sometimes they can't guess what their daughters will enjoy.

"We thought the water area, the aquarium, the fish and dolphins was going to just be captivating for them," David said. "We were wrong. They could not have had any less desire to have any part of it."

Lynne Hardwick, an artist from Charleston, said her daughter, Hillary, remembers being "dragged" around the world to museums and historic sites. Now, Hillary works at the Atlanta History Center.

"When she was 3 years old, she was walking the Freedom Trail," Hardwick said. "She still gripes about that, 'My little feet were sore mom.' I say, 'That's all right, you were getting an education.' "

Friedlander seems to echo Hardwick's sentiments. Friedlander said "Block Ice & Propane" is written in appreciation of his family vacations.

"I still absolutely love to get out on the road," he said. "Once it's in your blood, I think it stays."

Kristen Rajczak is a Goldring Arts Journalism Program writer. Reach her at krajczak@syr.edu.