Inside a songwriter’s brain

June 16th, 2015

I suppose all songwriters approach their craft a little differently. So perhaps the title is a little off. Inside one songwriter’s brain might be more appropriate. Line one and I am already editing – that is certainly the worst of my songwriter brain.


I had an idea for a new song – a fictional back story about a real event and real people. I thought carefully about the story I wanted to tell, did considerable research on the two people involved. But I struggled with the actual song, the feeling and flow, putting words into the form of a verse. My usual, tried and true plan for moving the song along is to give it a lot of thought and let it go. Since I am not a great sleeper, I have long quiet nights to let my thoughts wander and ramble, unedited. They tend to work themselves out.  So I plotted and planned and went to bed. In the morning I had a song. But no, not that song. Not a worthwhile song about a scientist I admire. A song about a mosquito. A mosquito that causes the fall of mankind. Four verses and a chorus. Melody. Rhythm. Done.


Oh, and that other song, the one I was trying to write, nothing. And still nothing.


During our summer hiatus Aidan and I are faithfully dedicating ourselves to writing new songs. We set aside time to work. We improvise, or doodle as I call it. We share concepts, chord patterns, snippets of melodies. Sometimes its worthwhile and sometimes it is a total waste of time. Soon we will have an armload of songs and hopefully they will be songs we want to record that fit together in a meaningful way. But then there is my brain. It may get in the way and insist on writing drivel. I can’t stop it.

Pictures from the secret life of a folk singer

May 27th, 2015

As promised (although late) here are some photos from our days off on the road:

IMG_4766IMG_4798 a visit to Goddard Space Flight Center

including bunny suit for clean room

a trip to the Harley Davidson factory



shoehouseyardartpa Farnsworth at the shoe house

Farnsworth enjoying crazy yard art in Pennsylvania



waterfallteepee  Crossing a small waterfall during a hike (omitted photo of foot followed by photo of sky)

Farnsworth at the Teepee Gift shop between Cooperstown and Albany (cow is a camera hog)




gravestwogirlsnc  We like graveyards.IMG_4818

Two young girls drown together and are buried together.

You don’t see that very often



So that is a slice of our down time. We like to get off the beaten track and look around. We like it so much that we wrote a song about it and someday we might tell you about getting off the beaten track while traveling overseas.

Some times we are rock starsisis

The Secret Life of a Folk Singer

May 6th, 2015

Back home for a week after a wonderful tour, we begin to reacquaint ourselves with our static community. The one in Greenville. The one that is relatively constant and unchanging, tied to a locale. It seems odd. Stranger than the ever-changing, intermittent, geographically vast community of the road. We have become more comfortable out there than right here.

I imagine that is a hard concept for some people. Folks like roots, find comfort in some routines, like to see seasonal changes from the same vantage point. I can appreciate all of those things. Perhaps with an inside look at life on the road, you might glimpse some of the joy we find out there.

First, the numbers. 3661 miles, 25 days, 8 sidetrips, 2 donuts, 1 snow day. Doesn’t look very special in those terms, but if I break it down you’ll see.

3,661 miles. That is a lot of windshield time. I love that. It is quiet, meditative time, lyric forming time, reflecting on the last encounter, reliving the joy of a show. On small roads there is the chance of discovery, on highways a chance to connect on email, phone, etc. We listen to surprisingly little music while in transit, but we do write in the car. Driving south we saw spring from the first appearance of buds to full on flowers and leaves all in one day.

25 days. A long time to be away from our physical home. To be comfortable with that we need to have a really good concept of what home feels like and we need to take those essential components with us. Over the years we have paired it down to a few essentials; a few good books, some comfort food, a planned work schedule (written down), clothing for every possible weather condition. We also have to take stock of what our community means to us and make sure we have that on the road. On this trip we were lucky to see an abundance of friends and the warmest, kindest audiences. Our visits with friends tend to be brief, but however long or short, those visits really matter. I continue to be amazed at the community that exists without borders and without constant contact. Do we provide that for other travelers? I hope so. I can’t stress enough how important it is to have someone to count on back home. I know that neighbors who pass by and would notice if something was amiss. I learned that I can call a friend and ask her to crawl under our bed to retrieve CDs and send them to us. How to express the thanks for that?

8 side trips. A cool mural painted under a bridge, a tree carved into a candle and the word peace, a tour of the Harley Davidson factory, a house shaped like a shoe, a behind the scenes tour of Goddard Space Flight Center, a metal teepee, a great display of yard art with a kind of creepy appeal, an old graveyard. We live for this stuff. Really. We also got in a couple of really nice hikes in Maryland and Pennsylvania, good climbs, waterfalls, wildlife. It is an interesting contrast to the man-made quirkiness of the side trips.

2 donuts. Before this trip I cannot remember the last time I ate a donut. Probably when we still lived in NYC. Some part of every journey should be indulgent.

1 snow day. Cooperstown NY April 23. Its good to be surprised sometimes.

Tune in next week, I will post photos of all the side trips.

Manual Labor

April 4th, 2015

First, let me warn you that you cannot make a comment on this blog.  That is not intentional. It makes me sad. I have no idea what is happening. I updated my version of wordpress, the “sorry you can’t make comments” thing happened, I went on forums for ideas to fix it, tried the simple fixes which did not work. I am too busy (euphemism for lazy) to learn how to fix it right now. Sorry.

And now, the actual blog. We are building a house. Someday, on this currently tree covered piece of land there will be a small, efficient house built by our own hands and many other hands. A lot of trees have been sacrificed for us. Twenty to be exact. It was heart-breaking, but all of that wood will go to good and exciting uses – more on that another day. I have taken to calling the property Twenty Oaks.

Since we have never build a house before we thought we should start with a garage. It has been a challenge, fun and interesting, but still a challenge. Because the land slopes (sort of a mountainside) we needed to level a space for the garage and build a foundation wall. Aidan and I are both university educated people who try to put our brains into things. We are good at learning and good at problem solving. I would describe us as handy and willing to work. Grading land and laying concrete block are way beyond our capabilities. We hired someone to operate a bobcat sort of thing and someone else to build a masonry wall. I have heard the phrase manual labor all my life. Never thought of it as a bad term, but now, as we start to talk about construction on a daily basis I sometimes hear a tone in that phrase. I hear a reference to “just a machine operator” or a suggestion to hire “some bricklayer.”  And, of course, that we should get someone to do the “manual labor.” Because we are too busy with the more intellectual task of what? check writing?

We watched with wonder as footers were excavated with an 18 inch digger to within 1/2 inch of the specified dimensions. Is that even possible? Obviously it is, but it takes way more skill than labor. Our mason measured and placed rather complicated guides to ensure the wall would be square and straight. He mixed mortar like a real baker would mix bread dough, with an instinct of how much water to add to get the perfect consistency. He threw mortar with unbelievable accuracy into an even line. It reminded me of throwing pizza dough or frosting a cake.  (Sorry, all of my analogies are food based. I must be hungry. There are cupcakes in the other room and I can hear them calling.) It’s an art-form.

It is so easy to over-simplify a task that someone else is doing without a solid understanding of what it takes to do a job. I am honored that so much skill, artistry and care will be a part of our home. Certainly it is a lot of labor, much of it done by hand, but also by head and heart.


Words Matter.

March 26th, 2015

A while back this blog became infested with a ton of spam comments. So I stopped for a bit with every intention of starting again. But then there was some other shiny thing that caught my attention and the idea of writing a weekly blog just faded away. In the past month three people have mentioned my long-lapsed blog. Thank you three wonderful people. Hopefully there will be more readers, but for now, I write for the three.

I am a reader of books, a writer of lyrics. Words matter. Language matters. Please let me be right about that.

I was walking through a parking lot back to my car and passed a three year old girl. She was wearing a flowery dress, striped tights, bright sneakers. I smiled at her and that was all the invitation she needed. She wondered why I had parked so far back in the lot. I explained that I felt quite lucky to be able to enjoy the longer walk on such a beautiful day. Her expression was half smile and half disappointment as she told me that was what her mom said. Mom smiled. “Are you a hippie?” the girl asked. I laughed a little, “yes, are you?” She shrugged, “I guess.” I gave her an enthusiastic grin, “excellent!” She smiled. Mom smiled.

On the way home it occurred to me that someone had likely referred to them as hippies in derogatory way. My own definition of the term has been a little mixed, but now it has a good connotation for me. I probably would have called the girl’s parents hippies based on their attire, bumper stickers, and fondness for the back of the parking lot. I would have said it with kindness. But someone had taken that word from this young girl and given it a different meaning.

At a recent show a man introduced himself, complimented our music. He was a self-described conservative christian and he remarked that he was probably the only one in our audience. He was probably right. We had a nice chat, so many things to talk about, so much common ground. Really. Christianity was his moral compass, and that, he said, directed his conservatism. While he wanted others to follow in his beliefs, he felt strongly that loving other people with respect and without judgment was the only christian way to spread his message. He did not appreciate that his adjectives had been taken by those whose values did not include the most important christian value – love. I could relate to his feelings. There are some people who call me a liberal as if its an insult, and there are some liberals who have some of the most intolerant views I can image.

When did we start using these adjectives to label people so narrowly? How did these wonderful, descriptive words become weapons to intentionally create divisions and build stereotypes? I wanted my adjectives back. I wanted our collective speech to be more inclusive, less hateful. I want a three year old to feel good about who ever she is. I swore to undertake this in my own words and use of language.

And then, Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy. Why must the universe test me. Many mean-spirited, sophomoric adjectives filled my brain. They came very close to seeping from my brain through my fingertips and out into the world. They were really funny. The universe must hate me. I took a breath. I thought of my new conservative-christian friend and the three year old potential hippie. I don’t want Ted Cruz to be our next president. To be honest I would rather he was not a candidate sharing his views. I think his economic ideas are short-sighted and bad for the nation. I don’t believe he will be respected by foreign leaders. I think he will create more division among the people of our country. You see, I can use words and language to express my point of view without personally insulting anyone or labeling and stereotyping large groups of people. It is not as fun. It is not as funny. But I can work on that.

Words matter. Language matters. We need to learn how to talk with each other again. We need to take back our adjectives.

The Tao of Q (except for monkeys)

July 11th, 2013

Aidan doesn’t really do much electronic communication. No facebook, not big on email. So you don’t get to hear the things he has to say. You miss a lot. So here is a little bit of the Tao of Q.
When Aidan was quite young he went to the Napa County Fair. His older brothers decided to spend the day with their dad in wine country. Aidan had a fun day; rides, exhibits, arcade games. He told his brothers all about it. They said they visited their father’s client as planned, at a vineyard, with an island in a lake that had a shipwreck and monkeys. That sounded pretty amazing and Aidan felt he had made the wrong choice.
A decade and a half later, Aidan and I took a trip to Napa and drove through the wine country. I asked for recommendations on where to drop in – smaller places, with nice people who were enthusiastic about their farms. Aidan asked if there were any vineyards with lakes, perhaps a boat. Fortunately he never asked about monkeys.
One afternoon on a dirt road we saw a very large pond out past a tasting room. There was a small island in the pond. We walked around the far side of the pond and there was a boat, a sort of Chinese junk, leaning on its side. There were no monkeys. The folks at the vineyard said the boat had been there forever, they never remembered any monkeys.
Aidan was thrilled. He called his brothers. “I found the winery with the island and the shipwreck!” They had no idea what he was talking about. “Where you guys went when I went to the Napa County Fair.” They had gone on a boring trip with their father. They had missed the fair and had made up a fun story.
You can make your beliefs happen, will your desires into existence, create your own reality. Except for monkeys.
This month our desires become reality. We hit the road for a short tour playing lots of songs from the new CD. We start in at Fiddle & Bow, a long-running series that we visited while traveling years and years ago. We always wanted to play there. Then to Virginia for a show at West Wind Vineyards, because you know we love wine. We will share music and lead workshops at suusi, a gathering that our friend Russ Taddeo told us about a few years ago. We have been trying to make that happen but couldn’t work into the schedule until this year. All the show details are on our “Shows” page.
It’s going to be fun. We really want to see all of the great people we have met over the years. And in the next twelve months we are going to make that our reality. But there won’t be any monkeys.

California, Cooperation, Collaboration

June 5th, 2013

May was a crazy month!.. Organized and attended the SERFA music conference, went to Switzerland, released the new CD, getting ready to go to California.
One of the things that keeps me sane through all of this is finding the meaning and the wonder in all of it. Here it is: collaboration.

Serfa is a gathering of musicians, venues, djs and more who bond over this broadly defined category of folk music. Most of the people who attend are musicians. We do this for a living and we should be there to network, meet concert presenters, book gigs, get airplay. And we do all of those things. But it amazes me that we also share information, skill, and experience with each other. We really support each other and offer each other advice in this crazy life we live on the road. I never had a sense of competition. For me the best moments were the unplanned and unscheduled. One afternoon a couple of friends gathered in the lobby in front of a big stone fireplace with a view of the blue ridge mountains. I sat back and heard Carolann Solebello and Rob Lytle play some brand new songs and some classics. A small crowd gathered, the circle grew and everyone played, listened joined in. It was magic. Later we met up with an old friend, Tracy Feldman who played violin on our first CD. We hadn’t seen him in about 5 years. We made time to play together and it was really as if know time had passed. He has a gift for knowing how to support a song when he plays.

Right after the conference we got on a plane. Lots of fun, beautiful, interesting moments in Switzerland. (I will post some pics on FB) We went to one of our favorite museums, Musee de Art Brut in Lausanne. Fantastic exhibits. Some people there told us about another museum that they enjoyed that had an exhibit they enjoyed so much they couldn’t wait to tell us about it. So nice of them to share, in detail, what they enjoyed and why we might also find it interesting. Taking a little time out of their holiday to make our experience a little better. At that collection of exhibits there was a fascinatingly curated showing of two painters; one swiss, one America, one living, one not. Their lives had not overlapped but there were striking similarities in their work and in their work over time. Fascinating. The cooperative exhibit brought new people to both works and new insight into both works.

I feel like that ties into our new CD quite nicely. Songs inspired by reading. The authors, whose works we have enjoyed, really opened up new paths in our writing process and took us to places we had not been creatively. They didn’t intentionally collaborate with us, but sharing art is a way of collaborating with the world. I really hope our songs bring new readers these authors.

So we are heading to California. We will play a few shows including one with Michael McNevin. We met Michael through Susan Moss who makes great introductions. She seems to know who will like each other. Haven’t seen Michael in a few years, but when I said we were heading to California he did not hesitate in putting together a show. He’s a great writer and performer, we can’t wait to play with him. He is cooperative. It makes our world so much better.

Crazy month turns out to be all about working together.

Past, Present , and Future not necessarily in that order

May 15th, 2013

This week we head to SERFA. For the unindoctrinated that is the Southeast Reagional Folk Alliance Conference. It is a three-day gathering of musicians, DJs, concert presenters and other folks in the music business. The idea is that we get some business done – learn from each other, discover new music, maybe even book some shows. All of that happens. But it is not the reason that people attend these conferences. The true reason is that like each other’s company, particularly in a setting where we are not distracted by other people, places, or things that don’t relate to our musical lives. It is an amazingly fun weekend which always builds strong bonds between the people that participate. Oh, and the sleep deprivation makes it really funny. Here are a few quotes from previous conferences:
“I can’t operate the milk” (Christine)
“Can I touch your monkey?” (MaryBeth Zamer of the Twangtown Paramours to Aidan)
“Gordon, don’t let the chicken bite the pig” (Christine)
“Things don’t just happen by accident, not good things anyway” ( Mark Dann our fearless recording engineer)

We leave for Switzerland right after the conference. Updates and pictures from both adventures next month. And maybe some swiss chocolate if you are nearby.

We were in Texas last month. It was our first real trip to Texas and it was fantastic. We have been to Kerrville before, but the Kerrville Folk Festival is like its own nation, so it doesn’t count as Texas. We did some shows with Karyn Oliver and Rob Lytle. We call ourselves (and a rotating group of others) The Elevens a nod to our musical meeting at Kerrville in 2011. FYI Karyn has a new cd out. She played some of the songs in Texas and they are fantastic.

The people in Texas were incredibly nice. Brian Kallinec hosted us in Houston. Brian and his wife Pam opened lots of wine and served lots of cheese and we got to hang out with the nicest folks. Went to the art car museum, it was awesome. Click on the art car tab at In Austin Matt and Tonya Hiland were kind enough to put us up and put up with us. We had gluten free pancakes for breakfast. My first taste of gluten free stuff. Amazing! And in Arlington we were welcomed by Karen and Craig. They had a lot going on last month, but they still made us feel at home and very well cared for. Aidan will not stop talking about the homemade muffins. I am going to have to get recipes. WE had kolaches in West, TX and arrived home to hear about the accident there. Surreal. Not sure why all I mentioned is food, but sometimes that’s how we remember a trip.

Right now, our friend Leni Engels has a very new book called the Book of Mom. She is a nurse, mother, and music fan. She put all of that into this guide for new mothers. Including lyrics from a bunch of songs from great artists, and our First Two Wheeler. While we are away, go take a look at There will be a quiz next month (okay not really, but you should check out the book ).

Have a wonderful Memorial Day.
New CD will be available when we get back next month!!
We are heading to northern California for a few shows in June.

The Glamorous Life of a Folk Star

February 13th, 2013

Ever wonder what it’s like to be on the road as a traveling musician? It is a fantastic affair, one glamorous adventure after another. This week we have travelled from South Carolina to Florida for the purpose of playing music for Floridians. But when not on stage, the high life continues.

We drove seven hours, most of it in the rain, and fell asleep exhausted. But when we awoke we were rewarded with a superb sunny day in North Florida. Went for a nice walk and finished the drive, spent a little time by the bay before our first show.

Day two was an easy drive and a great show. We spent the evening with Alice, a great hostess who has lived an interesting life and shared stories about her travels. The next day we had lunch with old friends. They are also musicians, but play a different style from us. Nice to hear about their music trials and triumphs.

A visit to a historic site, a hike along a river bank, and dinner under the stars. Yes, a charmed life we lead! I had a difficult day concentrating since I knew Marshal Rosenburg was recording percussion for our new CD. I wanted to be there, but I wanted to be here. I paid bills and answered emails while sitting outside at a picnic table. A caterpillar fell on my head. Screams ensued. Glamorous indeed.

Did a little SERFA business. Did a little work on the Texas weekend of shows coming up in April. Listened to new CD mixes sent by Mark Dann. They are sounding good! But working on these songs remotely is a challenge.

For those of you keeping score on last week’s post, snacks eaten: many, band aids used:2, extension cords used:2 (he really is never wrong), flashlight used:once, gratuitously (maybe he is a little wrong once in a while). Yes, I used office supplies.

We are playing a show this evening, and tomorrow I begin work on the CD artwork, outside under the oak hammock. I guess it is a glamorous life.

Travel Rituals

February 6th, 2013

I am packing to head to Florida for a few weeks, and I can’t wait. We have been homw for five weeks, our longest stretch in Greenville. I think I could be on the road full time with no home base. I know Aidan would hate that. We both love to travel, but he likes having a home base and getting in a few projects around the house.
Long before we were musicians we did a lot of traveling. These days, traveling in our camper van, it’s not really like leaving home. Still, I notice that some things about travel never change with us. We have rituals, do you?
I like to clean the house before we leave; do all the laundry; put clean sheets on the bed; put out fresh towels. Sometimes a traveling troubador comes by our place while we are gone, so it’s good to have a clean house. But really, I have always done this. I trim my bangs. I pack snacks as if we will never find a store. I pack bandaids and antiseptic as if we will never find a store. Hey. I get hungry, and I get cuts and scrapes. We usually go through all the snacks and most of the bandaids.
Aidan likes to make a list of things to pack or things to do and check off those things as he goes. He backs up his computer. He brings extra extension cords (?) and extra flashlights. He says he likes to be prepared. But I know that this is not entirely true because he lets me arrange our travel plans.
When we first traveled together for vacation I would make the plans. To me a plan is a flight out and a flight back. Done. After all, I have snacks and bandaids – I am ready for anything. Aidan likes hotel reservations, transportation, maps, ideas of places to see. We have arrived at a state of compromise. We have some reservations, some plans, and some times when we will be tumbleweeds. We will have plenty of snacks, and bandaids, and extension cords and flashlights.
How do you like to travel? Do you have any rituals?

Hope we see you somewhere down the road!