by Brandon LaChance

If you’re a traveler, a United States of America historian, or live in or around a town on U.S. Route 66, you know the importance of the highway.

Rt. 66 was established on Nov. 11, 1926 and became one of the most famous roads in the country as it runs from Chicago, all throughout Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and it finishes in Santa Monica, California.

The highway covers 2,448 miles.

Nolan Stolz knew the geographic and other information easily found on Google, but he wanted a closer, more intimate look. To do so, he took a year-long sabbatical to tour Rt. 66 and create music inspired by his findings.


“In 2013, I wrote a piece titled “The Lincoln Highway Suite” for orchestra and I wanted to write a follow-up piece about another historical highway,” said Stolz, a music professor at the University of South Carolina Upstate. “Rt. 66 was the obvious choice. Also, Rt. 66 turns 100 in 2026, so this is the best year for me to get on the road to learn about Rt. 66 and spend as much time on it as possible so I can start orchestrating a piece that truly reflects and represents the road.

“It’s the most famous road in the world. It’s quite historical and important for America. Turning 100 years old is special for anything, even a road. I’m on Rt. 66 every summer when I go to Missouri. That’s where I go to compose music.

“This is the first time I’ve done the entire road start to finish in multiple settings. I’ll get to Chicago and turn around. I’ll go to Los Angeles and turn around. I stay in Missouri in an artist residency called Osage Arts Community (in Belle, MO). That’s my home base during this project, even though I’m hardly there.”

Soltz, who was born in Milwaukee, grew up in Las Vegas and resides in Spartanburg, SC.

However, he has not been to his South Carolina residency since June 2021 as he set out for his Rt. 66 voyage on July 1, 2021. His sabbatical cut his salary in half from South Carolina Upstate, but he was awarded with a break from his teaching duties to tour Rt. 66 and create music.

“I’m taking pictures and video of places I find inspiring and interesting,” Stolz said. “I bring those back to my studio so I have something to help me remember the images I saw and the experiences I had. What I’ll do is I’ll find the 1926 alignment and I’ll take that route when I’m taking photos of things and places that existed then. It helps me imagine what it looked like in 1926.

“The whole orchestral piece is going to be titled “A.D. 1926.” The whole thing is going to represent the beginning of the highway. I’ll look for neon signs, lit or not, and I may get some inspiration for music from them.”

Stolz’s musical composition will feature different movements including one on theaters, gas stations, lodging, and more.

“I am also going to go to theaters. The last movement I’m going to call, “The Show Must Go On.” That’s going to represent theaters of all eras of Rt. 66,” Stolz said. “It’ll feature pre-1926 theaters such as opera houses where they may have had vaudeville shows or silent movies. Then you have the drive-in movie theaters and I’m going to go to them as well. If it’s still a theater, great and I’ll stop and see a movie, concert, or a show. If it’s turned into something else, that’s OK, too. If I can go into the building and take a look, great. I’ll imagine what it looked like when it was a theater. “

Another movement is titled, ‘26 Gas Stations.’ It’s paying homage to a 1963 photography book called, “Twentysix Gasoline Stations.”

It was made by Ed Ruscha. He drove from Los Angeles to Oklahoma City in 1962. He took photographs of gas stations along the way.

“Last year, I spent 26 weeks tracking down where all of those stations were and then went to them. Most of them have been tore down and there is something else there. Some of them still exist. I decided to travel the whole route and select 26 stations or former stations that I find interesting or have a personal connection. Maybe they’ve turned into a mom and pop restaurant or gas station.”

Stolz has been to Dwight twice during his travels and plans to make a stop in the village a total of eight times as it will be part of multiple movements. The Texaco Station will be in “26 Gas Stations” while Paulson Court and Hotel Francis will be in the lodging collection.

The music professor plans to write the music inspired by Rt. 66 by the end of 2022 or beginning of 2023 and hopes to have it fully orchestrated in 2024 with woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion sections.

Brandon LaChance is a journalist with The Paper. He can be reached at 815-876-7941, blachance20@gmail.com, or on Twitter @LaChanceWriter.

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