Life on the (friction) farm

June 11th, 2017

June is a wonderful time of year here. The oak trees are full and our view of the Blue Ridge mountains is mostly obscured. We don’t miss it. They will return to us. And in the meantime we have a cast of characters to keep us entertained and a lots of gardening chores to do.

Meet the critters

We name things. If they are around long enough to be recognized they get a name. Thus far only four birds have been christened. Burt and Lulu the bluebirds. They flew in the chimney, were rescued and released. Aidan built them a house which they moved into, laid eggs, had the eggs eaten but a flying squirrel, but came back again. They deserve names. Phoebe and George are eastern phoebes who have built a nest in the carport. They sit on a post in the garden and catch bugs. Welcome to the farm kids.

There are eight deer, but only two have names. Orbison and Pajamas. The one and only bear is Howard, but we call him Walter. (Its a long story). The large black snake is Freddy. There are turkeys and raccoons, but none has distinguished themselves so far. I’ll keep you posted if that changes.

Here’s what’s growing (or not)

Our little orchard has a half-dozen fruit trees, apple, peach and plum. But there are a couple of pear trees nearer to the house. Plus a few fig trees scattered about. And a few cold-hearty citrus up against the south wall. I know we are not done yet. We were hit by a late frost and lost all the blossoms. One lone peach survives. The local farmers tell me its a good thing for young trees. Their energy will go into roots and branches and they will be bigger and stronger next year. I’d rather have fruit now.

There are blueberry bushes everywhere. The early season varieties were large and sweet. The mid-season are just starting to ripen they are smaller have a hint of tart beneath the sweet. Late season types are new and won’t bear fruit until next year. The blackberries are huge, but still red.

Asparagus has gone to fronds. I love the way they look, guarding the back of the beds. The peas are done but winter squash and melons have moved in to take their place. Summer squashes are blooming, tomatoes ripening, beans growing but struggling. We’ve had pak choi and mustard greens but they are ready to wilt in the heat and day now. Artichokes have just stalled. We won’t have any this year. I haven’t got enough in the ground yet – and I’m running out of time. But June is a wonderful time of year here and we have to make time for a glass of wine on the deck. We do what we have to do.

Traveling Mercies

April 24th, 2017

I am in the dining room, looking out the window at the rain. It is pounding heavy on the roof and pooling up on the ground. More than three inches yesterday, and expected to continue until tomorrow morning. But I am in the dining room, and it is outside. I am thinking back a couple of weeks to the last rain of this caliber. We were in the car.

Driving in  the pounding rain is surely stressful for everyone. We do it so frequently it sometimes loses its impact. Other times we are reminded how quickly conditions can change and how fragile a car can be. So as usual, we are in the car heading to a show. We had agreed to play a brand new festival, agreed knowing all the perils of a new festival. Of course there would be issues, of course there might not be a good crowd, but of course we would contribute what we could to grow the audience for live music. We would book a show on either side of the festival and all would be well. Except that another commitment prevented us from booking something after the fest. No worries. As we approached the date, the other surrounding show cancelled. Unavoidable. So now we were driving to one date, several hours away, knowing that it will not be financially worthwhile, perhaps not spiritually worthwhile.

And it starts to rain. A little at first. Then a downpour. Hour after hour. We see the remnants of accidents on the road… a car buried up to its axles in the median, another two crumpled together off the side of the road. We begin to wonder what we are doing out here. Really isn’t this some cosmic sign that we have taken a wrong turn in our business lives? It’s not bad enough that we make a pretty meager living, now we should risk our safety for it? Is that what the universe is saying?

Up ahead it is a little lighter and brighter. The sky begins to glow just a bit, and then there is a rainbow. And then another. A double rainbow. It lasts a good long time. Aidan takes a ton of pictures through the rainy windshield of a moving car. To you it would look like wet blurry color smears. To us it looks like hope. As we approach Richmond, at rush hour, the rain stops completely. We sail uneventfully past the city. On the other side the rain starts again.

I don’t know what the universe is saying. Perhaps it’s a language I don’t speak. But I know what I am hearing. I am thankful for traveling mercies, and we keep driving.

The Making Of Round Shiny Things

March 26th, 2017

The songs were recorded and we sat and listened. We chose. We put them in order. We rearranged (a process that will be repeated often).

I feel like an outsider in our own songs.

When I write I usually have some sort of an idea or inspiration, something I observed that I want to share or, in true Friction Farm fashion, something that annoys me and I need to work out. Beyond that I don’t give it much thought. I start with so much intent and then give in to the pull and flow. Does the music fit how we are feeling? Do the words convey the story? All the while the feelings and the story are changing and developing, but I am not conscious of it. Suddenly it is a song. A done thing.

Once we finish writing we busy ourselves learning the song. I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true. Over a bit of time the sounds morph a bit, a few words change.

And so, we are listening, again; hearing changes we didn’t consciously make; hearing the contributions of other musicians who heard and felt what they did and let their reactions seep out of them and into our songs (they confirm us, inform us, please us); hearring the threads that weave through all of the songs, some expected and familiar, others a complete surprise. Oh, really? Is that what we have been thinking and feeling and reaching for across these several months.

So now, we think and hope, it is suddenly a collection. In a couple of months it will be a physical thing we can hold in our hands and you can hold in yours. Read the rest of this entry »

Can an instrument change your life?

January 16th, 2017

We played a show in Ashland VA just outside of Richmond. Beautiful, big room, nice stage, good sound. Our first time playing there. The forecast called for snow and an hour before the concert started there were heavy flurries swirling in the wind.

We resigned ourselves to playing to an empty room. It happens.

But a few people came in, and then a few more, and by eight o’clock there was a small, but respectable crowd. We were relieved and incredibly appreciative of every single body in the audience. Bob Grammann and his wife Lou made the drive down. Bob is the luthier who created my amazing fretless bass. As I thanked everyone for braving the weather to be there, I pointed out and introduced Bob. “He made this beautiful bass that changed my life” I told them.

Looking at their smiling expressions I thought perhaps they believed I was being a little dramatic. It happens.

I had never planned to say that. It just came spilling out of my mouth. Was it really true? Not exaggerated nor dramatic?  I’ve been thinking about it.
Since the bass is the nicest instrument I have ever owned, I felt I needed to be worthy of it. So I needed to practice playing. And since it was fretless, a new animal for me, I really needed to practice. That’s a good thing, worthwhile, but not life changing.

The tonal qualities made me want to listen more. The ‘in between note’ possibilities made me want and need to listen more. I played quietly for the first time ever. I listened to the sound my fingers made on the strings. I listened to the small changes that were possible; pitch, tone, sustain, staccato. I rested where once I might have made sound.

I listened to Aidan’s playing more. It happens. Occasionally.

Having thought about it, my playing has definitely changed. My sense of music and musicality has definitely changed. Those changes have impacted my writing. I have gained a sense of calm about performing. And of course, those things have seeped into the rest of my life.

For me it took a new instrument to make me listen more carefully. So maybe you need a new bass. Or maybe you don’t. But it could change your life. It happens.

How Painting My House Makes Me a Better Human

October 25th, 2016

How does painting the house make me a better human?

During the three weeks that we are home in October we need to paint the outside of the house. The weather has been ideal for painting; dry, not too windy, not too warm.

We also have music to make, songs to finish. And you can guess what I would rather be doing. But, I am an adult. We start the painting.

Aidan does the big stuff. Spraying the broad sides of the house from a thirty foot ladder. I do the trim. I actually prefer that and I have a really steady hand. My plan is to coalesce song ideas while I paint, using the work as a sort of meditational backdrop.

Breathe, brush, edge.
Words are not coming.
Breathe, brush, edge.
Wasp between my eyes and the brush!
Breathe, brush, edge.
Previous night’s Presidential debate in my head.
Breathe, brush, edge.

At some point I am in the zone there is nothing but paint in a thin perfect line around the door, around the window. Minutes and hours rolls by until I am out of trim and fortunately not out of paint.

There were no lyrics, not even a couplet. No convergence of ideas, no clarity. But the house is painted. (the house is painted!) I take a shower and sit down to work. Not on a song, but a talk I’ll be giving about finding purpose in your passion. It’s something I’ve done before, but I like to change things, keep it fresh. I have been speaking lately about businessy things and it is nice to change gears.

I begin to realize  I’ve had a small, slow simmer of anger just below the surface. It’s kept itself hidden while I was distracted by the beauty of nature and the joy of music. But it’s been there. And now it’s gone.

Today, tomorrow and November 9th. I have no use for anger. I will be needed. I will have a friend who is too tired to do laundry after a chemo treatment. That’s on me, not any government agency. There will be an acquaintance who is alone for a holiday and I need to invite them over for dinner. Me, not some elected official.
I will dance at the weddings of amazing couples and witness the pride of parents whose child has just graduated. Joy will not be legislated. And when someone needs help pushing their car out after a snow storm, that is not on me. Call Aidan.

I will meet folks who have had a hard week of work and need to be taken to a different place in their minds. I need to play my heart and soul out to them. I need to. I need to for them, and for me. So Aidan and I are working on two projects that we believe will let us use music as a tool for making a little corner of the world just a little better.

If the outcome of an election goes your way, or not, I promise you are needed out here in the world. Most of the work of making this place good is on us. Can we carry that weight? My shoulders feel pretty strong. I think it’s from all the painting.

Anatomy of a tour – different sorts of side trips

October 12th, 2016

Anatomy of a tour-  (different) side trips

While the natural wonders we have seen in this tour are almost beyond description, the unnatural wonders inspire so many words.

twinesigntwine

The biggest ball of twine was on my list. We drove to Cawker City Kansas to see it. It is big, it is twine, it is full of controversy. You see, there is another ball of twine in Darwin Minnesota. It is smaller, but is the effort of one man not a group. Someday we shall see it too. To be honest, the compulsion of one man to amass twine is more interesting.

 
There was much to see in Kansas. Yeah, Kansas, who knew. Before this trip my knowledge of Kansas was based entirely on The Wizard of Oz. if there is a real Oz it is certainly in Lucas, KS. Home of The Garden Of Eden, Florence Deebble’s Garden, and the best bathroom I have ever seen.

deeble1We went to Lucas to celebrate Florence Deeble and see the garden of found object and concrete sculptures that she created. She started when she was quite young filling in a small pond recreating favorite places and memorializing people and events. Her home has become a gallery of sorts. The garden of Eden is larger and more well known among connoisseurs of roadside oddities. But for me it was far less appealing.

 

lucas-loo1The town encourages and supports its art and artists. Evident throughout the town but most obviously at the public rest room.It’s building structure looks like the tank of a toilet and the entry walk way from the sidewalk like a seat. Look down to see a blue swirl of a mosaic with the many objects that may have been dropped in.  An additional path appears to be a large roll of unfurling tp. The inside is a series of beautiful mosaics created by local artists using materials from the town folk.

We were treated to a tour by Rosie Cowan. Diminutive in stature but with enormous energy and enthusiasm, Rosie gave us the back story, the details, all the inside poop. Sorry. I had to. You understand. The stories of the people of Lucas KS are in the artwork; a man’s chess set, a woman’s blue China, jewelry, matchbox cars. By the way, Lucas entered a contest for best public loo. They didn’t win but they were number two. Seriously.
teepee wigwam

 

Holbrook AZ is the home of the Wigwam Motel which I have always  called the Teepee Motel. Unbelievable. Wigwam shaped cottages are for rent. We met a couple who was staying there and got to peep inside! There are vintage cars out in front of each Wigwam. Truly magical. Might stay there someday. Still calling it the Tepee  Motel.

I hope you love this stuff half us much as I do. To see much of it you have to leave the beaten path. It’s a bit out there (some of it quite a bit out there) but so often worth the drive.

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

Read the rest of this entry »

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.