‘Taking it Easy’ in Winslow, Arizona

Winslow welcomes upwards of 100,000 visitors annually—more than 10 times its population—thanks in part to the classic rock and roll song "Take It Easy."
 

Photograph by Andrew Pielage.

When the Eagles released “Take It Easy” in 1972, few people would have predicted the impact it would have on a sleepy Navajo County city called out in its lyrics: Well, I’m standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, such a fine sight to see, it’s a girl, my Lord, in a flat-bed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.

Winslow, located about 95 kilometres east of Flagstaff, welcomes upwards of 100,000 visitors annually—more than 10 times its population—thanks in part to the classic rock and roll song. Every fall, this city, which is located on the equally iconic Route 66, hosts the Standin’ On The Corner Festival. At this two-day, live-music event, you can bet that a certain classic tune will be played.


Photograph by Malachi Jacobs/Shutterstock.

While it was a song that established Winslow in popular culture, it was the train that first put it on the map. In the late 1800s, trains on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway line had no sleeping or dining cars, so Winslow became a pit stop where people could get off the train and grab a bite to eat.

Route 66 rolled out in 1926, with a stretch passing through the city and, just four years later, the grand La Posada resort opened. Considered one of the finest hotels in the Southwest, it hosted guests such as Amelia Earhart, Clark Gable, Albert Einstein and Franklin D. Roosevelt. As rail travel dwindled in the late 1940s and ’50s, Winslow began to fade into obscurity. La Posada closed down and the building was later gutted and turned into offices.

By the 1960s, auto-touring was booming and Route 66 attracted those seeking the freedom of the open road. Jackson Browne was one of them. In an interview with Uncut magazine, the singer-songwriter said he started to write “Take It Easy” while driving a beat-up Willys Jeep through Utah and Arizona.

On his return, he played the partially completed song to his friend, Glenn Frey, who was working on an album with his new band, the Eagles. Frey asked if the Eagles could record the song when it was done and Browne told Frey to “Just finish it.”

Visitors make the journey to Winslow to do one thing: simply stand on the corner.

The rest is history. It became the Eagles’ first single and would go on to become one of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s “Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Winslow leaned on Route 66 for tourism, but the construction of Interstate 40 and the arrival of a bypass in 1979 hurt the city economically. As Browne and Frey’s stars were rising, Winslow was being left in the dust, destined only to live on in the verse of a song.

Fortunately, it was not just any song, it was the ultimate American road-trip anthem. Thanks to Browne and the Eagles, nobody could forget the name Winslow, and, by the 1990s, locals had decided it was time to transform the city into a destination.

Thanks to a group of volunteers, the corner of West 2nd Street and North Kinsey Avenue—located on the original Route 66—was designated Standin’ On The Corner Park in 1999. An impressive mural depicting a woman in a red pickup truck, a fictionalized version of the vehicle in the song, was created. Leaning against a streetlamp is a life-size bronze statue of a 1970s musician, a character inspired by Browne, but who everybody just calls Easy.

Photograph by Eniko Balogh/Shutterstock.

Today, visitors make the journey to Winslow to do one thing: simply stand on the corner.

Across from the park, a busy gift shop sells commemorative souvenirs of both Route 66 and the Eagles, while a vehicle out front bears the licence plate TAK T EZ. Just a couple of doors down, RelicRoad Brewing Company buzzes with chatty diners sampling local beer amid vintage-car decor—its grilled cheese sandwich is called Take It Cheesy. The La Posada was saved from demolition, too. The protected building is now restored to its former glory and houses a hotel, art gallery and museum.

Winslow also has the Eagles’ approval. When the mural was damaged by a fire in 2004, the band donated a signed guitar to be raffled off to pay for the cost of repairs. When Glenn Frey died in 2016, a statue dedicated to him was swiftly installed on the street alongside Easy.

“I grew up here—my parents had a shop on Route 66, so I’ve seen it change,” says Tommy Butler, vice-president of the Standin’ on The Corner Foundation, the volunteers dedicated to preserving Winslow’s lyrical legacy. “The park resonates with people,” he adds. “It’s so international; we have people coming from every corner of the world.”

From all corners to this one corner, music fans, railroad enthusiasts and Route 66 followers all congregate. And, it seems, the people of Winslow have found a place to proudly stand.

[This story appears in the November 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]

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