Local Musician Revs Up His Bike for Popp Over America Tour


Far Rockaway resident, Joe Popp, an acoustic guitar musician, avid motorcyclist, and self-professed techie, is revving up for his 48-state Popp Over America tour. This renaissance man on his motorcycle, armed with his guitar, a few GoPro cameras, a digital recorder, and microphones, will ride cross-country to the backwoods of the USA just to play music, meet new people and broadcast it all in a web series.

The Rockaway Times (RT) met with Popp at Rockaway Roasters, to find out why he decided to take on this project and share his zen, performing and meeting folks from the salt of the earth.

RT: First off, what brought you to Rockaway?

Popp: I was originally struggling with editing the video for the Popp Over America pilot, when I first toured in New Jersey. Where I lived in the City, I couldn’t get any peace and quiet to focus. So I saw this ad for this apartment on Beach 24th Street in Far Rockaway, and something in my heart nudged me. This is where I need to be, with the bonus of being near the beach! I have been here since November, and was able to finish the pilot within a month and a half, after struggling for two years to get it done. So the Popp Over America pilot was officially finished in Far Rockaway!

RT: Where are you originally from?

Popp: I was born in New Jersey, then moved to Florida in 1977 with my parents when I was 12. I moved to NYC in 2000. For the last 15 years, I have been working at City College of NY in Manhattan as the technical director of their sound recording program, and I teach the course, Rock Ensembles as an adjunct professor. I love my job! Every six years I get a sabbatical, which gave me the opportunity to do this trip.

RT: What inspired you to do this trip?

Popp: Trying to find a way to heal myself from a broken wedding engagement, I found this book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. It’s a story about a father who rides a motorcycle through the American Central Plains with his 11-year-old son. I have been a motorcyclist my whole life, so I bought a bike in 2012 and did a cross-country trip. But after a month without my guitar, it felt like being without an appendage. Then I thought: What if I did a tour across the U.S., riding my bike and armed with my guitar? So October 2014 is when I started developing the whole idea of the trip. Of course, I had to think ahead about the challenges. My acoustic guitar is enormous! I worked with a case maker named Jeff Hoffee, of Hoffee Carbon Fiber Cases, who designed the case for me, and I figured out a way to mount it. And now it’s just a wonderful setup. It’s waterproof, bulletproof, it’s everything-proof.  Where my left saddle back is, it just latches on.

RT: What states will you be traveling to?

Popp: I will be going to all mainland 48 states. Fifteen thousand miles. I have it all mapped out on my website: joepopp.net/poppoveramerica

RT: What about accommodations?

Popp: I can’t afford a hotel room every night, so I sort of chained the stopping points together with as many friends as I can. Even some strangers have come forward and said, “Hey man! I saw your show online and if you need anything, I have a garage you can park your motorcycle, or a bed you can crash in.” One motorcycle camp even offered a site, where I can park and sleep. So it’s just this beautiful kindness of strangers that’s happened. It’s really just been this fabulous journey so far, and I haven’t even started yet. I begin in May. Amidst all the logistical planning, I have to remember to practice and get my bike in shape.

RT: How have you been able to fund this tour?

Popp: I have been really lucky with the support I have been receiving, including from sponsors. I originally launched a Kickstarter campaign just for the pilot episode, and was able to raise $8K to hire a professional cinematographer, audio guy and two assistants. I just really wanted the pilot to look amazing. For this upcoming tour in May, I can’t afford to pay that kind of money, so I have a Go Fund Me campaign just to help me with the basics of food, gas and some accommodations, when needed. I am just going on my own with a couple of Go-Pros, and I’ll get a local to be the cameraman. I am a tech guy. So all this stuff is what I do. So I combine the tech with the mechanic, with the musician, and put it all together, and hopefully I’ll make a watchable product.

RT: What sort of destinations do you plan to hit?

Popp: My agenda is to go play at the fried-chicken place, where all the guys eat, for the local mechanic in a garage, and even a couple of state parks, just for the beauty of it. I am more about riding to the small towns with the gears that make America turn. I want to ride on the roads less travelled.

RT: What is your ultimate goal with this tour?

Popp: My ultimate goal is just meeting and playing music for new people. Rockaway is amazing for that. Within a day of moving into my apartment here, a neighbor knocked on my door and said, “Hey, I just saw you moved in, just wanted to say, Hi.” Then another neighbor came over, and now we are all friends, and they are artists too. It’s really a magical place out here.

RT: Have you performed in Rockaway locally?

Popp: I have performed at the Rockaway Brewing Company (RBC) in Arverne on Open Mic nights. It’s fun playing there, seeing folks having a great time. RBC will be hosting the Popp Over America Tour’s launch release party and screening on Wednesday, March 22, 8 p.m.

RT: What is your genre of music and musical inspirations?

Popp: I have a punk background, however, my music is more like acoustic rock. Think of the band, Tenacious D. My musical inspirations are classic rock like Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix. Even though I play acoustic, my music is still very much rock-based, like Pete Townshend. I just feel that it’s now or never.

Follow Popp Over America trip on poppoveramerica.com and support his Go Find Me Campaign at gofundme.com/poppoveramerica.

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