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.


Damn Flag

June 22nd, 2015

I was going to avoid talking about it. I tried. I really tried.

My heart was hurting last week thinking about the shooting in Charleston. I had not begun to think about who did the shooting or why, only to think about the terrible loss. Inevitably, conversations turned to racism, gun control, metal health care. It seemed to me that these conversations happened all too quickly. Didn’t anyone need time just to grieve? Didn’t anyone need time to think and process? Apparently not as much time as I needed. So I vowed to take that time and stay out of the conversation.

It’s not that I don’t have pretty strong opinions on those subjects. You know I do. And it’s not that I don’t share those opinions easily. You know I do. But it seems that we hit the familiar arguments as some measure of protection so we can spare ourselves the hurt of discussing the individual loss of life to an act of violence. We drop into a comfort zone of those arguments we know so well that we can spout our position without thinking. I felt those victims deserved my attention- before the reasons, the preventions, the arguments, I just needed to hurt. And I did.

Then that damn flag discussion started. For the record I want that damn flag taken down. For the record I believe that there are two flag issues – the one at the State house which clearly does not represent all of the people our the state and so must come down, and the ones everywhere else (and I do mean everywhere around here) which are expressions of free speech but pretty awful speech in my opinion. But I was going to take a step back and just listen. I live in South Carolina. I have lived here for four years. I am not from here. I am not from the south. I have neighbors who fly that damn flag. There is a store nearby that sells that damn flag and “southern merchandise”. My neighbors, but the way, are nice folks. They are good, kind neighbors and I do not believe they are racists, prone to violence, or full of hate. I do believe that some folks who fly that damn flag are violent, hateful, racists. So that damn flag bothers me, makes me uncomfortable, makes me angry, makes me wonder about anyone who flies it.  I’ve been told that damn flag is a symbol of southern pride and heritage. And when I say I fail to understand that reasoning, I am told that since I am not from the south, since I have no family history in the civil war,  I may never understand it.  Perhaps that’s true. So there I was hurting, and vowing to myself to keep my mouth shut.

I let the hurt seep in as much as I could take. Now its time to start talking and start doing. So here is what I have to say about that damn flag. To those who defend it as a symbol of southern heritage and pride: if you really mean that, then why didn’t you protect that symbol from the folks who stole it and co-opted it as a symbol for hate? where were you when that flag was raised while crosses were burning? where is your outrage when that flag is waved after a hate crime is committed? Your pride seems to be limited to taking offense when someone tells you to take it down.  Sorry, but you did not adequately protect your symbol. It now stands for racism and hate. You have lost that fight. And your fight was never with me, it was the hate-filled, violent, racists with whom you never really bothered to do battle. You lost. Take down your damn flag. Start with the one on the State house lawn. But let’s not stop there.

I will be talking louder and more frequently in my home state of South Carolina. I will be talking about damn flags, guns, racism. Wish me luck.


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.