Anatomy of a tour – side trips

September 25th, 2016

Anatomy of a tour – side trips

We love to play music to live audiences. Really, we could not dream of a better job. But to a casual observer the amount of driving we do must seem insane. It’s all about the side trips.

Aidan likes the road less traveled and natural wonders. I have taught him to love man-made wonders, or “outsider art.” I am not fond of that phrase, but it is what the formal art world calls works by unschooled artists who are not trying to impress the masses. I call it “really cool stuff.”

This particular tour has been filled with side trips to cool stuff both man-made and natural. So first, I give you natural wonders. Arches. Yosemite. Grand Canyon.

Aidan studied geology in college. This trip has been like grad school. After our first round of shows we took a slight left and headed to Arches National Park outside Moab Utah. We were pulling off to the side of the road before we ever made it into the park. Seriously unbelievable. The park is designed for accessibility, you can drive through, park and stroll to amazing vistas. But if you are even slightly more adventurous you will be greatly rewarded. Sedimentary layers in fluid formations change with the light. There were petroglyphs. We camped alongside the Colorado River, sharing a spot with a couple of tent campers from Belgium. We went to sleep under thousands of millions of stars and woke up to the sound of the river and a view of a sheer rock face.

After a couple of concerts we rewarded ourselves with a side trip to Yosemite. Aidan had been before, I had not. I was a bit concerned that it would not live up to expectation. There are lots of campsites, lots of lodges and restaurants and gift shops. But again, all it took was a few steps off the beaten path. By the way, I love that some of trails are accessible to people with a variety of mobility issues allowing them to enjoy spectacular views. Further along most trails the crowds thin dramatically. On day one we hiked up Vernal Falls and part way to Nevada Falls. Above vernal falls we mostly had the trail to ourselves. They were the only two with running water as it had not rained for three and a half months. Bridal veil falls and the iconic Yosemite falls were dry.

The Yosemite falls site was still worthwhile for us. On our way there – no one else was bothering to go – a pair of mule deer bucks were snacking as they walked. We tried to get out if their way but they walked right by us. Near the base of the falls we saw a bobcat. First ever for both of us.

We’ve been rainmakers on this tour. Literally. That night was no exception. A slow steady rain in the dark hours of the early morning continuing after sunrise brought Bridal Veil Falls back to life.

Half Dome and El Capitan are even better than in pictures. It’s hard to really sense a four thousand foot cliff.

The final chapter in this trilogy is at The Grand Canyon. Again a little rain cleared the dust and the crowds. We hiked the west end of the south rim nearly alone. There is a bus that runs the rim, stopping at lookouts. Some riders walked to the next bus stop, most took pictures and boarded again. Surprisingly most of the real hikers were over 50 (I’m guessing) and many quite a bit older.

Every turn was a different perspective of the past million years. No guard rails down the abyss. Elk. Fossil of a fern. More verdant than I expected.

I took a million pictures none of them captures what I saw or what I felt. Here are a few. (Yeah, obviously I don’t know how to post pictures here. Sorry for the mess.)

Arches

Arches

image

Arches

Tiny arch

Tiny arch



image

 

 

Vernal falls, sideways can’t seem to rotate these.

 

Yosemite

Yosemite

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

 

 

 

Yosemite

Anatomy of a tour- the bubble bursts

September 9th, 2016

Anatomy of a tour- the bubble bursts

I live in a bubble. I like my bubble. I live in the woods, I keep company with folkies and do-gooders, and intellectuals. It’s a happy place filled with positive, supportive people. Interesting folks – musicians, patrons of the arts, teachers, librarians, readers, hikers. People like you. I love the people in my bubble.

Apparently, I am not really a fan of people outside my bubble. I knew it had to happen. As the tour neared the two week mark we took some down days to write, take care of business, do laundry. And there they were. People. Just like that. From bliss to burst bubble.

People who smoke and throw their cigarette butts on my campsite; people who holler endlessly at their kids who are not listening; people who make a big campfire and leave it unattended are surrounding me. They are talking to me, these strangers, about their ailments and their disappointing relationships. They have not cleaned the lint filter in the dryer.

We sat at a picnic table to review some song ideas and play a few things we’d been neglecting. People came by. That’s okay, music attracts people. “Do you know any -insert name of current pop/country star here-?” People. They never believe me when I say no. “Sure you do, it like this.” People.

Lest you think I am simply dismayed at my own species, the geese outside the bubble are 7am honking geese.

Tomorrow we head into Topeka to perform at the Kansas State Book Festival. I look forward to being back in the bubble.

Anatomy of a tour – the honeymoon phase

September 5th, 2016

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Prelude to a tour

August 29th, 2016

The plan is to post a travelogue, an update every few days of the places we’ve been and the things we’ve seen. But I think you may need some context. So I begin at home.

The days before leaving for a tour always seem busy. There is laundry to be done, a van to be packed, travel details, promoting of shows. This time is even busier as we are recording songs for the new CD.

Despite a long list of things to do my brain interrupts. It has a song idea. It has something to say. I ignore it. It persists, especially at night when my logic defenses are down.
This is, I think, the essence of songwriting and the essence of Friction Farm. I see things I can’t unsee, feel things I can’t unfeel. They trouble me and I have to work it out. How I choose to work it out best is to distill everything down into its essential three or four minutes. Culling what matters, hopefully the truth, and letting the rest go. It’s work. Frustrating but occasionally rewarding. Exhausting, enlightening, emotional. The goal is to take something that annoys or concerns us (friction) and turn it into something worthwhile (farm).

I often hear writers talk about a song that comes from nowhere and practically writes itself. They call it a gift. It is. But having the desire and ability to do the work from creative spark to completed song is also a gift. There is most definitely a gift to be found in the process.

So we hit the road, to do list checked off and new song written. We stop for gas. A young woman asks Aidan if he will pump a few dollars worth of gas into her tank. He is skeptical. As they talk I sense that in his body language and I walk over and join them. She says she is headed to her family’s home and thinks a couple of gallons should get her there. She has a dollar and change, thought she had a couple more dollars with her. She is young. Her car is old. It has bad tires. We pump in five dollars worth of gas, about three gallons. We wish her safe travels.

It’s possible she’s a lazy panhandler who can now spend her own money on something terrible. We will never know. We do have the luxury of believing we have helped her and it feels pretty good. It feels like more than five dollars worth of good. We hit heavy rains and see motorcycles pulled off at overpasses. We pass a car engulfed in flames. Quite the day.

We tuck in for the night in the parking lot of a church. Safe, dry, well fed, comfortable bed. We breath it in, all we have seen today, all we feel. What a gift to have the desire and the ability to hit the road and head out on tour.

Another way to vote

March 2nd, 2016

You must be sick of election talk. It started so long ago and we are just getting into the first round of voting.  Don’t worry – this is different.

Later this month we will be performing at the Vestal NY Public Library. That doesn’t seem so unusual. We play at a lot of libraries. We love sharing our book inspired songs with people who are not necessarily fans of new acoustic music. The interaction with that audience is unique. There is more discussion of books and the creative path than at a more traditional venue. There are more questions and we always leave with a list of reading recommendations.

The show at the Vestal Library will be like that; family friendly, entertaining and a bit educational. But it will be different. You see, the library has lost some of its funding. Apparently, there are people in the world that value a library less than we do. The have forgotten what an amazing resource a library can be – not only housing books, but also newspapers and magazines, music and movies. A library is a gateway to art work, history or geography in print and also a resource for understanding your taxes or searching for a new job. It is a place with computers and internet access, a place for meetings or study. It is home for lectures, workshops and… concerts.

Of course, the library has a plan. They are resourceful. An alternate funding plan has been proposed and a vote will happen in early April. We hope to remind people of what is at stake, encourage them to learn about the proposed plan, and vote.

At each of our library shows I ask the audience if they have a library card. I actually ask them to raise their hands. I remind them that having an active library card is like voting. It shows you value the library. It lets people who allocated funds at the federal, state, and local levels know that you care about the building, the resources, the staff, and the programs. You won’t get a sticker, but a library card is a vote that ensures we all win.

The actual dark and secret life of a folk singer

January 22nd, 2016

I do like to share the fun stuff, the unexpected wonder of life on the road. But there is another side that I will share just this once.

 

I haven’t posted anything in a while, despite promising to make this a weekly thing. One of my readers, a fan and acquaintance though not quite a friend (yet), prodded me a bit – as she should. “You haven’t posted anything in a while, and you promised” she wrote.  Of course I thanked her for the push I needed. But I felt compelled to apologize and also to make excuses.

 

I had a list. It started with the biggest truth; we have been writing new songs and that has been consuming my creative energy and using up all my allotted words. I added other reasonable excuses; there have been some construction issues and a little travel. I could have stopped there. That’s a good, honest list. I should have stopped there.  But I didn’t.  The acquaintance wrote back.  “Quite the list” she said, “but kind of a lot of drama for not much substance. everything okay?” I re-read my list, long and over-dramatic.

 

You should understand that its getting cold out and I worry about our porch wren and the stray cat not to mention construction people being out of work when they need money to pay for heat, the presidential debates are crazy, my winter garden is a failure, I finished a book that I didn’t really love and I should be over that by now, the tiniest church was burned down, our drier broke.   You should also know I am not a crazy person. If you are a friend and not just an acquaintance I hope you back me up on that last thing.

 

If you are a friend that is also a songwriter you will certainly back me up on this next part. When I am in writing mode, I am feeling the full weight of my surroundings, tuned into the details and emotions, and focused on expressing all of that. It is not a switch that is easily turned on and off. Songwriting, and other creative pursuits I imagine, are risky endeavors.  We open ourselves too wide to the world. All of the beauty and wonder around us is brighter. So, all of the ugly and evil is deeper and darker. The rewards are amazing, certainly worth the risks, to see and feel and imagine with such depth and clarity.

 

And now you know the other secret life of a folks singer. And now you know when I start a sentence with the phrase ‘we’ve been writing a lot lately’ the rest of the conversation may be a little crazy. Hopefully the song is worth it, for both of us.

Secret Life of a Folk Singer

December 4th, 2015

Have you ever wondered what days off are like when we are on tour? No? Really? But now that I have put that thought into your head you are wondering just a little bit, right?

 

As we toured the gulf states toward Texas we scheduled a couple of days off.  Its a wonderful luxury to spend a day or two in a new town. Our days off tend to occur on Mondays and Tuesdays or really any day other than a traditional weekend. So on this particular trip our friend Todd Hoke, a fellow musician and traveler, suggested we might like the town of Ocean Springs Mississippi and specifically pointed us to the Walter Anderson Museum and Shearwater Pottery.

We made it a point to route our trip this way and stayed a couple of nights at the National Seashore. It was a great place for rest and quite. National Seashores and National Forests are pretty fantastic. Like many, this one ran on the honor system. “Wander around and then pick a campsite” their sign urged. Once you pick a site, you put a little notice on the site’s post that conveniently has a clothespin attached. Sooner or later a volunteer will come by to collect your money, but if they don’t you can put your money in the envelopes provided and leave them at the office.  Turns out, visitors to such places are very honest about paying for their site and rather civil in deciding who gets to camp where.

 

We woke up to a beautiful sunny morning and decided to walk to Shearwater Pottery and then on into town for lunch and a visit to the museum. It was  a nice walk. The pottery place has an active studio you can look around in and a shop with things for purchase and historical examples of the studio’s work.  I reminded Aidan that we had to carry whatever we bought. As we were leaving the woman behind the counter asked us where we were from, where we staying and what we were doing in town. As it had gotten quite warm out she offered to drive us back to the park, or into town.  We were happy to walk. Eager to see the town slowly as you can only really do on foot.  But what an interesting and unexpected offer from a stranger.

 

That happens a lot out there.  Its why we keep going out there. Its why we keep going. People are amazing. Despite what you might hear in the news, most people are amazing.

Full Circle Moment

November 20th, 2015

Its been a while since I have posted. Sorry about that. I swore to myself and probably to you that I would be more reliable. But we have been traveling and I have been meeting so many people and having face to face conversations that I forget. Oh no, I haven’t forgotten you. I forget that those individual conversations have not happened with each of you.

 

So, very belated story from our first trip through the gulf states.  We scheduled a show in Baton Rouge Louisiana. It was a typical show, part of a full tour that took us from the Florida panhandle, through Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and home again.  A couple of days before the show we were putting together a list of songs to play.  As you know we almost always play “Louisiana”. Its the song about Aidan’s father and his decision to turn down a good job because he didn’t want his kids to go to a segregated school. Although that story took place in post civil rights days, the south often had its own set of rules.

 

The song is off of our first CD and its one of the only songs we still play from that collection. It specifically mentions Baton Rouge. So we pondered. To do the song in Baton Rouge, or not to do the song in Baton Rouge. That was the question. Whether ’tis better to be polite in the face of a hopefully appreciative audience, or to suffer the consequences of who we are, tell our truths as they are. So of course, we had to do play the song and we had to give its history. Aidan spoke about the climate of the era, he mentioned by name the bishop who oversaw the parish schools. People listened. We played the song. People applauded. We could have been in any town. Folks were fine with hearing about the history of their region, good and not so good.

 

After the show a woman spoke at length with Aidan. She had been in catholic school at that time. The same segregated schools that Aidan might have attended had his father made a different choice. She said that change came more quickly than expected, partly because of the same bishop who had talked to Aidan’s father about the segregation in the schools and the limited plan for change.  That bishop was later a part of the inter-racial council that worked to end segregation in private and religious institutions.

 

It was a risk we didn’t need to take. We have other songs. But we trust the audience. Always.

They, you, never disappoint.

Thanks for that.

Why you should ask us for a favor

July 30th, 2015

In the past few weeks we have pushed our boundaries a bit. It has been a really good thing. But to be honest, it wasn’t our own initiative that made this happen. We were asked to play some shows that made us work different creative muscles.

Two friends, who happen to be talented musicians asked us to play some songs with them. Louisa asked that we learn a bunch of cover songs (songs written by other people).  We don’t do that very often. It tested our skills, made us use our brains differently, made our hands seek out patterns that we don’t automatically play on our instruments, made our voices find melodies we don’t often sing. Wendy challenged us to play some of her songs. She specifically chose songs that were easy to learn but they have a very different vibe and style than our stuff. She challenged our comfort zone and emotional space a little. We got to play with a band, and had to learn how to play well with others.

We were also asked to play some shows with special themes. We did not have the right song to fit the situation so we wrote them. No one asked us to write these songs, but they inspired us in other ways. When Katherine told us about the theme of the first show she also mentioned that she was rehearsing to perform at a memorial service for which she was asked if she might play some songs in a certain style. It was just a request, but she wanted to do it even though it wasn’t a style she usually played. She reminded us that it is nice to give some extra effort and care. It was enough of a push for us to write a new, appropriate song. Finally, Mark invited us to play an event and his desire to make the event special and meaningful really inspired us. He didn’t ask us to write anything new, but he made us want to, and we did.

We are home for a couple of weeks with new songs, new ideas, and renewed energy and spirit. Thanks to the friends that gave us those gifts.

So come on, ask us.

Christine (and Aidan, down the hall working hard)

Little Luxuries

July 1st, 2015

As if six weeks off during summer isn’t luxurious enough, I found an extra little luxury.

We always have a vegetable garden. It is a bit crazy given our traveling schedule, but we take a leap of faith, throw seeds in the ground, and hope for the best. I always have confidence that something will grow. I have confidence that some one will harvest. I have hope that sometimes I will be the one harvesting. But a summer at home is a rare and wonderful thing… zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, peaches, blueberries, blackberries. We don’t have a lot of space so I try to pull out whatever is done producing and replant quickly. But laziness has been the main luxury this summer. With all the abundance, I let some of the small beds languish.

The arugula arugula podwent to flower, small white blooms. I had never seen them before. They taste good and have been a beautiful little garnish on our plates. Then it went to seed pod. Yes, seed pod. Who knew? They are also edible (I hope, we ate them, we are still here), a concentrated arugula spiciness. Little luxuries indeed.

There is a lesson here, I think. I am impatient. I believe in efficiency of work. No doubt, I miss things. In other words haste and efficiency create waste and inefficiency. In still other words I might be controlling one thing, but all of the other related things are spinning in wild chaos.

I hope you have an outstanding summer. Let some of your beds languish. Experience the little luxuries.