The Most Important Thing Nobody Talks About

"Gotta keep it together when your friends come by
Always checking the weather but they wanna know why
Even birds of a feather find it hard to fly..." - Aimee Mann, "Goose Snow Cone"

I'm writing this in the midst of packing for a family vacation: the first time in almost nine years I'll get on a plane without my fiddle. It feels weird, like I'm constantly forgetting something, no matter how much I double check. I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole thing, although I'm sure I'll have a fantastic time once I get settled at my destination. The concept of vacation is a strange one among self-employed people, like artists such as myself. When you exist in a world absent many of the benefits of traditional employment (paid sick leave, paid vacation, health insurance, pensions etc.), you often find yourself spending every spare moment focused on work- doing the work you have, or hustling to get more. There's no such thing as "clocking out", shutting the door, and going home for the weekend. There's a constant fear that each phone call, each email that offers work could be the last. Of course there are perks to self employment: a greater degree of flexibility, creative and personal control, not feeling trapped with coworkers you don't get along with, doing work you truly love... I'd wager most of us find the sacrifices in other areas more than worth it in the long run. But there's no real "getting away from it all", and this brings up a darker topic, one that in discussions with other creatively-employed people, as well as my own experience, is quite taboo: depression.

When you work for yourself, especially as a freelancer (where you're not selling goods, but services, aka yourself), you are quite literally responsible for every aspect of your business; its ultimate success or failure. The consequences can often be immediate and direct, and frequently swerve between exhilarating and terrifying with a whiplash-like intensity. In a traditional office, if the accounting department messes up some bookkeeping, it may not directly affect those outside accounting. But if you're self employed, and you mess up some bookkeeping, it may result in the inability to pay your bills, with severe personal consequences. In a traditional employment scenario, if you're ill and unable to come to work for a day, you often can take paid sick leave without seeing any change in your paycheck. If I can't make it to a concert or recording session, however, I don't get paid. (Sometimes I can reschedule, but that can still leave the income side of that month a bit short.)  And the next tour, lesson, or record doesn't happen until someone sets it up: usually the artist (aka Me.) In effect, you're your own sales department. Now imagine being a salesperson where you're only paid if you make a sale, and where the rejection rate can be 80% or more. Combine that rejection rate with the fact that you're selling services that you personally offer, not inanimate goods, and it's not a far jump down the rabbit hole of taking things very personally. (Even when you know you shouldn't! Alas, the logical brain rarely wins in such scenarios.) It's a vulnerable situation to be in on a regular basis. And speaking of escaping the hard-ass boss, or annoying coworker, what is your recourse when those annoying, or abusive voices are the ones in your own head?

Perhaps the most unexpected part of this vicious spiral (Rejection---> Questioning of self-worth---> Fear/real time financial consequences---> Loneliness/Depression---> Lather---> Rinse---> Repeat...) is that no one talks about it. Depression in general is a tough, taboo subject to discuss, still frequently misunderstood as a defect of character, rather than the result of chemistry or circumstance. It's an isolating, lonely experience. What compounds this sense of isolation even further in the freelance life is that "salesperson" element: no one wants to sell or buy "damaged goods." So even when we chat with other artists, or fellow self-employed travelers, the majority of the time we put on a happy face, say we're "Good, busy, can't complain..." We don't want to be the "downer" that no one wants to hire. In short, while our traditionally employed friends may not be able to relate exactly, our comrades in our own industry know that we live and die by word of mouth. We don't want to let anyone see the whites of our eyes, lest the drought become permanent. Which leaves exactly no one left to talk about things with. But that internalizing of stress and fear only serves to feed those hungry, deranged squirrels chattering away in the dark recesses of our minds. Getting it out in the sunlight, remembering we're not alone, that we're not worthless, or unwanted, that we're actually quite brave in risking it all on a daily basis, that we can accomplish and have accomplished and will again accomplish things of worth and value- this is the antidote.

So if your freelance friend seems a bit withdrawn or down, let them know it's OK if they want to talk about it. Especially if you're a fellow independent worker, just having another voice to combat the loneliness can make such a difference, as you probably know by now from your own experience. So lend an ear, remind each other how tough it is, and how much courage it takes to keep putting yourself out there again and again. It helps. And if you don't have any experience with what your friend is going through, just letting them know you're there for them is all you need to do. Don't try to offer solutions, just listen. Sometimes a chance to talk, a hug, and shot of bourbon are all you need to go to bed knowing you can get up and try it all again the next day.

Then keep on keepin' on.

Farmers: the Only Folks We Rely On 3 Times a Day!

Farming is brave, hard, crazy… like art. Both are often defiant acts of creation. Both are vocation and avocation alike, a calling, a lifestyle. The ultimate DIY. (Farming is pretty punk!) But DIY is even better when it’s DIO (“Do It OURSELVES”.) A tribe of rugged individuals, working together. A community of neighbors, near and far, lending support, whether a cup of sugar, some tractor parts, advice, encouragement, a helping hand, a voice in Washington… And like the granges of years’ past, those communities get together once in awhile for some singing, dancing, eating, drinking, and whooping it up in support of each other. That’s how Rootstock came into being. Much like those grange hall hoedowns, we want to pay musical tribute to the efforts of past and present farmers who have been feeding us and protecting our beautiful land for generations, and raise a ruckus to support the next generation!

Rootstock was founded by two farmgirls: one a roots-rock musician inspired by the vital role of music in social action (if you guessed it was Yours Truly, you guessed right!), the other a sustainable farming advocate, trainer of young farmers, and lawyer. Our goal- to raise awareness and support for the young farmers making a go of it in the Northeast, and the special challenges they face. To do so, we've partnered with two energetic, dedicated advocacy organizations, each addressing a unique challenge facing young farmers, with all ticket proceeds from the kickoff Rootstock concert split between them.

National Young Farmers Coalition represents and supports young farmers, providing training and a voice in Washington on issues such as debt relief and food policy.

American Farmland Trust is dedicated to protecting farmland and keeping farmers on it, while preserving valuable natural resources like soil and water. Their “No Farms, No Food” movement reminds us that it is farmers and ranchers who feed us and sustain America.

We’re raising the rafters NOVEMBER 27th, 2016, starting at 6 pm, at the TOWNE CRIER in Beacon, NY!

Floodwood, Steamboats, and Daisycutter will be playing our hearts out to support these young farmers- and all of the bands have a personal connection to the upstate NY farming and conservation communities!

3 rockin’ bands, 2 farming advocacy groups, 1 night of music, food, and celebration of local agriculture! We hope you can join us! For more info on the concert, visit www.rootstockfest.org. For tickets, head over to www.townecrier.com.  If you can't join us on 11/27, but still want to contribute, we have a GoFundMe set up to offset some production expenses. You can check it out at https://www.gofundme.com/1st-annual-rootstock. And THANK YOU!!!

Send Off Summer with a Fun Cocktail Recipe and a New Q&A: "Wine or Chickens"!

Lots of changes afoot this spring and summer- hence the gap in posting on this here blog! It's been a heavy first half of 2016, musically, meteorologically, and politically-speaking, and with plenty of the year left ahead of us, I'm feeling in need of a brief reprieve before diving back into the deep end.

So in the spirit of lightening up the last days of summer, I'm starting a Q & A series called "Wine or Chickens". All questions welcome, the caveat is that they must be wine or chicken-related! (Those being among my favorite extracurricular activities.) Want to know what wine goes with grilled stuffed peppers? How to tell (in general) if a chicken lays brown or white eggs? Ask "Wine or Chickens"! Hope this is a fun diversion to help beat the heat!

And in case you'd prefer a cocktail to wine, here's a new one, using late summer ingredients (but no zucchini!) found in the Hudson Valley and named after the iconic mountain! Enjoy!

Storm King Summer Sendoff

2 white nectarines (peaches also make a good substitute)
4 springs fresh basil
4 teaspoons demerera sugar (or 2 oz simple syrup if you have it)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
8 oz pisco or white rum
12-16 oz vanilla seltzer

Pisco is the national drink of Peru: a clear brandy distilled from grapes, and never barrel-aged, which makes it delicate and refreshing! White rum makes a good substitute here, if need be. If you want to get extra-fancy with this one, try substituting dry cava or prosecco for the seltzer.

Slice nectarines into 1/2 inch chunks, and muddle together with basil, sugar, and lemon juice. Add pisco or rum, stir, and divide into four rocks glasses over ice. Top off with seltzer. (For a mocktail, omit pisco/rum.) Enjoy! (And of course, with consumption of all alcoholic beverages, be responsible, not an idiot.)

Appreciate What You Have, Before It's Gone (RIP The Magic Shop, NYC)

Greg came in the kitchen and in the tone of voice you use when someone has died, told me The Magic Shop was closing in March. It feels like someone died. Even to a minnow in the vast ocean of the NY music scene, a carpetbagger from the north who wandered downtown occasionally to see what the hubbub was all about. For those of you unfamiliar with The Magic Shop, this studio has been an icon not only of NYC, but of music in general for 28 years, recording an astonishing number of seminal rock records and archiving and preserving historical folk and world music treasures. (A sample of the artists who recorded at the Magic Shop: David Bowie (both The Next Day and Blackstar), The Ramones, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, Norah Jones...)

Every time a legendary studio or club closes, there is always a sense of great, irrevocable loss, of mourning, interspersed with the usual discussions of how it's a new world now and the business, the city, everything is constantly evolving. The times they are a changin', and nowhere is this more true than in NYC. There's plenty of blame to go around: technology, the economy, consumer apathy, greedy landlords...

I'm not so much of a Luddite to bemoan the technology that has enabled us to create and consume music with an ease and convenience never before available. Indeed, I wouldn't have been able to make my records without it. But for all the opportunity afforded to DIY with home recording technology, with the internet, there's still no substitute for sitting in a great sounding room with other like-minded individuals, and creating something out of the voices in your head and the ghosts in the room. Great music, like great wine, comes with a sense of place. Places like The Magic Shop are our musical terroir.

As artists, we feel the weight of responsibility to take up the torch of those greats that have blazed trails before us. There is an indescribable feeling of history, of inspiration, of, as the studio name implies, magic, when one enters spaces such as these. If music is our religion, studios are our cathedrals.

A few weeks ago I re-watched the closing episode of "Sonic Highways", the fantastic music/travelogue series by Foo Fighters. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to gain inspiration and a better knowledge of the great music cities of America. That last episode featured NYC, and particularly The Magic Shop. Steve Rosenthal, the owner, spoke candidly about the financial pressures facing the studio, and how he doubted the future of a studio that had survived 9/11. Dave Grohl even stepped in and offered millions of his own money to help The Magic Shop buy their space and thus ensure their future. The offer was declined. I went to bed thinking, "If even a rich, famous rock star like Dave Grohl can't save a place this amazing from the inevitable, what hope is there for the rest of us?" I don't know the answer.

Welcome to the New Year - Let's Toast the Freaks

I'm not a big David Bowie or Motörhead fan. I AM a huge fan of Alan Rickman, and if you're wondering why I'm starting off this first blog of 2016 in a rather dispirited state of mind over the loss of all three of these artists, well, so was I. Not having a strong personal relationship with Bowie's music or Lemmy's music (not that I didn't appreciate it, it just didn't make it into regular rotation on my own playlists), it's taken me the better part of several days to figure out why I'm absolutely crushed by the passing of these three unique individuals. It comes down to what they all represented, even beyond the art they left behind them. The key is in the word "individual." No one would ever mistake these men for anyone else. They were authentically, absolutely, unapologetically themselves, even when they reinvented those selves so many times it almost gave you whiplash to witness. It's a sadder world without them.

The void they leave seems even deeper and darker without a new generation immediately noticeable, stepping up to fearlessly create, to comment on, to leave the tracks of their art across this decade's snowfield. And while there will always be artists out there creating, living, and breathing their art, they're much further underground these days.

Our culture seems more scared of the "other" than ever before, more determined to tell young minds and old minds alike what they should and should not think and dream of being. We're all pressured to be polite, well-adjusted, "contributors to society." Our children are encouraged to look for "real work" instead of devoting themselves to being artists; arts programming and education are constantly cut, and kids who are viewed as "challenging" are medicated into a more acceptable version of "normal." Our arts industry is shrinking, while shows like "American Idol" vomit money and fame at prepackaged, shiny, vacuous, marketable ideals. They don't last because they have nothing to say.

There will never be another Bowie, or Lemmy, or Rickman, (or Lennon, Zappa, Cobain...) But from where will come the next artist to kick in the doors of society's cubicles? The internet has democratized the world to the extent that finding such becomes the proverbial needle in a digital haystack. Labels hesitate to chance what little capital they still have on the unknown, the not-easily-understood, the strange. Young artists are derided for following their muse to art school, for daring to make a go of it after, for not giving in to the lure of security, of comfort, of stability, that is the promise of "real work".

We need to reward the dreamers, the weirdos, the freaks, the misfits. They are our collective daring, our imagination, the soundtrack to our dreams. What contribution to society did Lemmy, Bowie, Rickman make? What are "Ace of Spades," "Ziggy Stardust", and Severus Snape worth to our collective consciousness? You tell me. In the meantime, until we can get some more outrageous dreamers and creators back into the mainstream, I hope Keith Richards keeps doing whatever he's been doing.

So my resolution for the New Year comes as a toast: To the freaks! Thank you for being outrageous, for being challenging, for being brave, for being true to yourselves and your art. For reminding us of things we forget in the day to day beigeness of being "normal." That rock and roll is not meant to be comfortable or easy or convenient. That even the most loathsome villain has a world of complex layers underneath. That maybe there is life on Mars.

Fall Reflections and a 20 Year Retrospective Concert

Happy Fall -

Autumn is an evocative time, whether it's back to school (remembering the feeling as a kid, or experiencing it again through the kids in our lives); the exhilarating, ominous change in the air and the leaves; the relentless onslaught of pumpkin-spiced everything...

For me, it's been all of the above (minus the pumpkin spice beverages!), and a chance to step back a bit, take a breath of cooler air, and reflect. This post is a bit of personal history, since this fall happens to coincide with a twenty year career milestone in my musical history with Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs. For those of you less familiar with the Caffe, it's been a birthplace and home of the folk music scene in the Northeast and beyond, a historical and cultural landmark as the longest continuously-running folk music club in the US (since 1960). Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger... so many influential artists have found a musical home at Lena's, and I'm truly honored to have been able to do so myself for two decades (yikes!) In my travels both musical and geographical, I'm coming more and more to appreciate how lucky I am to be one of the last generations to participate in the folk process firsthand, learning the songs, tunes, dances, and stories of the generations before me from those musicians themselves.  

On October 16th, at 8 pm, I'll be revisiting some wonderful musical moments of my own at the Caffe, in a special "20 Year Retrospective Concert", aiming to perform songs and tunes from my latest and my earliest set lists! (Now I just have to find the 20 year old set list somewhere!) I'm really looking forward to making this music again with the help of a few very special guests who have joined me on Lena's stage throughout the entire span of those two decades. Without spoiling the surprise, I'll just say that the show is shaping up to include tunes with band mates from Sara and Friends (my very first band to play the Caffe Lena stage!), The McKrells, and of course, my thirteen year collaboration with Greg Anderson (as a duo, as Daisycutter, and beyond!)

In this increasingly digital age, no algorithm can replace the special feeling of a community of people gathering together to take part in a musical moment in time. The continuation of that community is the magic of Caffe Lena.

For those who can't be there, the show will be streaming live via Concert Window.

For those who can, it's also Octoberfest at the Caffe, and thanks to Olde Saratoga Brewing Company, craft beer will be available at the show! Just save me some!

Details and tickets are available at www.caffelena.org

Hope you can join us in celebrating this musical milestone!

Philosophy of Music and Wine Consumption: Beyond "Music + Wine = Good."

Music and Wine: two of the finer things in life, and a damn good combination, if you ask me. Focusing on slowing down and savoring the things that come to us seems to be a good approach this time of year as the roar of summer begins to fade into the rearview mirror. Sitting down at a table and enjoying the summer bounty with the knowledge that that freshness and abundance are fleeting makes it that much more special. So too does opening a bottle of wine reserved for a "special occasion". The fun of buying a new record or CD, bringing it home, and listening to it from beginning to end, then putting it on repeat until certain we have the lyrics and melody lines memorized falls also in that same vein. What these things all have in common is that appreciation of them requires some dedication of effort and awareness. How much of that are we in danger of losing in this new world of instantly downloadable/streamable singles, where the lyrics are available with a quick google (although good luck trying to find the credits for the musicians and studio engineers who helped produce that music!) and the prices (when they're even paid for at all) are cheaper than a cup of coffee?

In wine tasting, the idea is to try to absorb and enjoy as much about the wine in front of you as possible, to understand it on multiple levels. First the color, what that say about the grapes and the age of the wine. Then the aromas, the "nose" of the wine - what do they indicate about what's to come? What fruits do they invoke (oddly, "grapes" are rarely one of those fruits, one of the alchemical wonders of the amazing things humans can create with good old Vitis Vinifera)? Is the cherries and pepper of pinot noir? The grass and grapefruit of sauvignon blanc? Berries, roses, and limestone in a cabernet franc rosé from the Loire? Finally the actual taste of the wine- do those flavors carry through? What new flavors may emerge? How much acidity is there to make your mouth water and cleanse the palate? Are mouth-drying tannins (like in a strong cup of black tea) present on the finish to make the wine linger and perhaps offset any rich dishes or meats you may be eating with it? It takes a bit of practice, and constant commitment to slow down and notice what's going on in the glass to get the most out of it.

Foodies also take this approach when they remind us to slow down and really notice what's on our plate. Perhaps we could also try to be more mindful of what goes into our music, the way we pay attention to our food and drink: on multiple levels. (Of course there are delightful exceptions- foods, wine, songs not meant to be deeply focused upon but simply and lightheartedly enjoyed as they come in a more casual fashion!)

So if you don't already, the next time you crack open your favorite tunes, try committing to noticing the layers and nuances of what's happening sonically. Are there any metaphors or subtext behind the lyric? Are there instrumental melodies: hooks and riffs, but also countermelodies being used to support the overall sound? What role is each instrument playing and why? How do the dynamics contribute to the overall impact? Is the production lush or austere? How does the song make you feel? I believe connecting the visceral and intellectual appreciation of music (and wine! and food!) can only deepen the experience we have with it and add to the overall enjoyment!

And since we're on the subject, one of my favorite wine pairings also happens to be one of the most simple: a big bowl of buttered popcorn with a nice, oaky chardonnay. You'll want real butter on the popcorn for this (don't be stingy!), and a new-world style (like California) chardonnay to give you more "buttery" oak than the French versions will. Butter with butter: bring it on! The playlist for this combo should be whatever makes you happy!

Happy Late Summer!

The Problem With Sawyer Fredericks: (Warning: NSFW)

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: I was rooting for Sawyer Fredericks. I'm thrilled he won. I am not attacking his talent, his success, or his ambition in the least. If this is what he wants to do, and he's doing well with it (as he obviously is), and (I hope) having fun, more power to him. This is NOT an argument about that. And this is not about raining on the parade of seeing upstate NY in the news for positive reasons. (And fair play to him for wanting to get back to the farm - I definitely can't blame him there!)

But I was pretty disappointed amidst all the cheering and voting and support for Sawyer to see so many people only coming out of the woodwork to support a local artist once they were famous on the national stage. To those of you who were so suddenly and enthusiastically cheering for Sawyer in the finals of The Voice, who might be thinking, "Wow! Who knew there was such talent in our little upstate NY?" Well, obviously not you, since if you supported the local music scene before it gained notoriety on TV you might have noticed there's actually quite a lot. Sarah Craig did, when she booked Sawyer for a night at Caffe Lena, just like she's done for hundreds of artists in various stages of their careers, including Yours Truly 20 years ago. And it's thanks to the numerous supporters (and you know who you are- thank you!) who have come out to my shows for two decades, and many other artists' shows, that have allowed so many of us on that stage to continue in our musical careers to many other stages, and for the Caffe to keep running continuously for 55 years- the longest running folk club in the US to do so.

"Buy Sawyer's music on iTunes- it counts as a vote!" That's great. And if you buy another local musician's music on iTunes, it counts as groceries. Or gas. Imagine how much richer our musical scene would be if artists who haven't gotten the press that Sawyer has got that level of support.

(And just in case this is starting to sound like sour grapes, I have no desire whatsoever to appear on The Voice. If someone were to offer me a chance to appear on The Voice, with a guarantee that I would win, a million dollars, and a record contract, I would turn it down. Because shows like that do not encourage the taking of artistic chances, which I think are necessary for growth in any medium. (And given the restrictive nature of many of the contracts those shows offer, I would argue exactly the opposite. Hell, Kelly Clarkson just got free of her American Idol record contract- this year!))

It's just a pity that it takes a national talent show/three ring circus to draw attention to local and regional talent. It's a pity that that's the definition of musical success these days. It's a pity that kids think that that's the way to become a musician now. What about the artistic icons that probably would never have made it onto those shows- either because stylistically they weren't the commercially-viable material the producers may have been looking for, or because they were too challenging or weird, or because they weren't the best singers? I can think of a lot of names that might apply: John Lennon, Patti Smith, Joe Strummer, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Bikini Kill, Prince, Nirvana... you could keep going in this vein for a while...

Speaking of Nirvana, I think Dave Grohl put it best: “When I think about kids watching a TV show like American Idol or The Voice, then they think, ‘Oh, OK, that’s how you become a musician, you stand in line for eight fucking hours with 800 people at a convention center and… then you sing your heart out for someone and then they tell you it’s not fuckin’ good enough.’ Can you imagine? It’s destroying the next generation of musicians! …Musicians should go to a yard sale and buy an old fucking drum set and get in their garage and just suck. And get their friends to come in and they’ll suck, too. And then they’ll fucking start playing and they’ll have the best time they’ve ever had in their lives and then all of a sudden they’ll become Nirvana. Because that’s exactly what happened with Nirvana. Just a bunch of guys that had some shitty old instruments and they got together and started playing some noisy-ass shit, and they became the biggest band in the world. That can happen again! You don’t need a fucking computer or the internet or The Voice or American Idol.”

But what you DO need is a local scene that supports musicians enough to eke out a living while they're doing that.

Lighten up- It's Spring, after all!

I missed the March blog entry (mea culpa!), but since for many of us, the never-ending end of winter is something we'd rather forget, I'm jumping into April here before that too passes by. For this installment, I had a few directions I was thinking of going in: a discussion on the decline of the middle class working musician; the roles afforded women in music (and resulting stereotypes - whether in traditional music or rock); the economic elephant in the room that is streaming... but since it looks like spring has FINALLY ARRIVED here in the Northeast, I'm going to take the advice of friends and family and "Lighten Up!" At least for the moment. I promise a return to serious, heavy topics next time, but for now, here are a couple of recipes to kick back and relax with!

THE BLACK EYE

This drink is a variation on the classic "Black and Tan" (sometimes known as a "Half and Half"), substituting dry apple cider with black currants for the traditional Pale Ale that's usually at the bottom of the glass. (New York State is producing some excellent ciders these days, in the dry, nuanced style of fine European ciders and beers. I recommend checking out Doc's Draft, Slyboro, Aaron Burr, and many others.) This recipe was inspired by my first trip to Ireland 15 years ago, long before my palate had developed its current affinity for the chewy bitterness of a well-drawn pint of Guinness. As an alcoholic version of "training wheels", I was frequently served a glass (half pint) of stout with a shot of black currant juice in it to smooth out the bitterness. It worked.

THE BLACK EYE

8 oz dry apple cider with black currant

8 oz Guinness stout

Pour the cider into the bottom of your pint glass. Using a bar spoon, SLOWLY (that's the key to successful layering!) float the Guinness on top. You should have two layers: the complex, bitter Guinness on top, and the crisp, refreshing cider on the bottom to chase it. ENJOY. RESPONSIBLY. DON'T BE AN IDIOT.


Now, for something a little more food-like:

SPRINGTIME LEMON HERBES DE PROVENCE SALAD DRESSING

Juice of 2 lemons
Zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 c. olive oil (or more if the lemons are especially juicy)
1 T mild honey, such as clover or wildflower
1-2 T Herbes de Provence
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small skillet, gently heat the olive oil and sauté the garlic until golden. Halfway through sautéing the garlic, add half the lemon zest and the Herbes de Provence. Let cool. In a small jar or cruet, combine the remaining lemon zest, lemon juice, honey, and COOLED olive oil. Add salt and pepper to adjust flavors to taste. Mix well. Serve over your favorite greens, or use as a marinade. The honey mellows out the zesty lemon flavors and the Herbes de Provence (usually a blend of thyme, savory, rosemary, basil, tarragon, lavender, and sometimes fennel) provides a nice herbal kick. Perfect with fresh greens, especially great with chicken!

Now get out there and enjoy the return of warm weather!!!

Why

Why?

It is a question we ask ourselves as artists, as individuals, as humans, every waking day. An obvious example for anyone employed in the arts, or who has traded profit for passion, is the "Why" that seems to rear its ugly head every time the bills are due, or the car breaks down, or the gig gets cancelled, or attendance is disappointing. Or when the gig pays well and the room is full, but the audience is loud and drunk and either wants to hit on you or hear Journey covers. Or both.

Then there is the "Why" of what brought us to this whole music/art thing in the first place. Some of us were too young when we started out for any critical thought deeper than, "I want to!" We just knew it was something we really, really wanted to do. Had to do. And even years on, "Because I want to," is still justification enough on so many levels. Once we journey further down that road, however, we (hopefully) become aware of the layers of responsibility that being an artist brings. And as an artist coming from certain long-held musical traditions, traditions which often directly reflect the suffering and experiences of those who had hands in their creation and perpetuation, I'm beginning to realize more and more just how those responsibilities are not to be taken lightly.

Anyone who's heard a murder ballad, a protest song, or had a "soundtrack" to a breakup can attest to the power of music and musical tradition. Though music has entertainment value beyond compare, it can be dangerous to completely divorce a song from its historical context. Songs are expressions of humanity set to melody and you risk losing that humanity by just focusing on the entertainment side of things (not trying to be a killjoy here, as there are certainly loads of songs meant for nothing more than fun. And fun is necessary too!) But consider that many of our most beloved songs have a dark history, whether personal or political. To try to sugarcoat that is to do a vast disservice to the times that created that music and the people who suffered and struggled and were inspired and comforted by it.  

I've been thinking a lot recently about the difference between being an entertainer and carrying on a living tradition as a musician. Having grown up playing traditional music, I can't help but feel the weight of responsibility to those that have gone before; those that have taught me, and those that have taught them. It's jarring to see this respect sacrificed for the sake of a cheap laugh, applause, or a quick buck.

One recent instance I found very upsetting was a holiday show in which the set list included John Lennon's "Happy X-mas, War is Over", immediately preceding the IRA-supporting football song, "Up the RA."  I'm not sure which was more shocking to me: the musical/ethical clash of those two songs back to back, or the audience response. (Audience: "Yay, X-mas, peace on earth." ----> "YAY! Carbombs, terrorism, religious and sectarian violence! But there's clapping and fist pumping! YAY!") And this was at a matinee show at a very nice performing arts center. This wasn't a bar gig. Similar arguments could be made for many songs from the Civil War era, or the more modern example of talking whoopee cushion Mike Huckabee condemning Beyonce for setting "a bad example" for young women while himself cavalierly accompanying Ted Nugent on a marginal-at-best rendition of "Cat Scratch Fever." Playing a song without learning and taking responsibility for its meaning and history is something I'm finding more and more offensive these days.

Bear in mind, I'm certainly not bashing going out to see some live music and just have a good time. There's no entertainment experience on earth that can replace seeing a live show and it's something that needs supporting now more than ever. And not every concert needs to be a profound social and musical commentary. There are some songs that exist purely for the purpose of fun and enjoyment, and those are no less valid than the "heavier" musical numbers that are out there. I just think it's our responsibility as musicians, artists, and entertainers to distinguish and respect the difference.

Music has power to change an individual or collective consciousness. Let's try to use it wisely.

P.S. On a simpler note, to anyone who's ever come up to me (or any artist) after a show to say how much a certain song meant to them: That's Why.

 

Observations on Being an Artist. And a Woman. At the Same Time. (NSFW)

Welcome to my blog, a collection of random outbursts, recollections, rants, and the odd recipe! Sit down, pull up a chair, and pour yourself a nice glass of single malt. Then pour me one too, please. Neat. OK, here we go...

<WARNING: language throughout parts of this opening salvo may not be suitable for work or children.>

As a lifelong artist (I started studying the craft of my instrument from the age of 4 and never looked back), image and identity are two concepts pretty deeply entwined with artistic endeavors and the definition of "success" in such (I put it in quotes because this is a pretty fluid and bullshit-filled concept particularly in the music world these days.) If you happen to be a woman and you're thinking, "Hmm, sounds familiar...", well, those two concepts are pretty insidiously anchored in society's take on what it means to be female as well.

When I met my childhood country music idol, Clint Black, years ago as a star-struck fan, he gave me some of the only truly excellent career advice I've gotten. "So, you want to be a professional musician?" he asked. "Yes", I said. "Then you better have a thick skin."

Go out into the world as an artist, and you will get reams of unsolicited advice about what material to play, how to dress, what to say, how to market your product, etc. Some of this will be constructive. Most of it will not.

Go out into the world as a female, and you will get reams of the same bullshit. Very little of this, too, will be constructive. Most is so quietly entrenched that you may not even notice until long after the fact- like those snappy comebacks that always come to you right after the offending person has walked away. Much of this sneaks by under the guise of that lurking bastard : "politeness." To be clear, I absolutely, unequivocally support treating each other as fellow human beings worthy of respect and empathy. To me, that is true politeness. But how many times have we as women been encouraged to not be too loud? To not speak up to ask questions? To not take the lead? To not take up too much space? To not take credit for our accomplishments? To not call out the "compliments" that are meant to demean, to possess, to belittle? To say "sorry" rather than "excuse me" as a sentence opener- when we haven't actually done anything to apologize for?

Go out into the world as a female artist and there's a perfect (shit)storm waiting for you to arrive so it can tell you all the ways you could be doing things "better." More "successfully." More "marketably." (This does not take into account the REALLY blatant sexism in music: the "you play as good as a guy" "compliments", or the assumption that you're just the girlfriend of the guitar player etc. That's for another blog!)

But here's the thing: the outside world does not have any justification to dictate what each person's narrative, identity, or experience is. Everyone's personal narrative is different. And if, as true artists, our personal experiences and narratives are what inform our art (as they should in honest art-making), then the only people truly qualified to comment on that are: OURSELVES. The rest of the world needs to just go off somewhere to shut up; whether it be a suggestion to "smile more" (on the street or on the stage), "advice" on what to wear, or more outwardly successful artists telling the up-and-comers what they ought to do. What worked for one person may have no bearing on another, and the business environment is changing so fast that in the words of investment pros themselves: "Past results do not guarantee future performance."

Here's a petty little example:

Why should I wear a sundress and cowboy boots when performing? They were never part of my personal narrative (except the boots, but only when I was actually working in a barn.) Why should they be now- apart from the fact that they look an awful lot like the "uniform" of the chick roots music singer these days. And that's my problem with it- the whole concept of "uniform." It means "sameness." And I'm even less comfortable with that notion that I am with actually wearing the damn dress. (I'm not all that comfortable in anything you can't hike in.) Now I'm not judging other people's fashion choices. It all comes down to the WHY. If you're wearing a dress and boots onstage because you like it and it makes you feel good, great! That's your narrative. If you're doing it because it's a thing that people who play that sort of music do... well, that's a little awkward. Same goes for the skimpy cocktail dresses and skirts and high heels. If you feel naturally happy in those clothes, excellent! (I'm quite jealous of my friends who do! Because they have way better balance in heels than I do.) But you can't pretend the dominant paradigm isn't one that encourages women to market themselves by appearing a certain way. It's a fine line between "hot girl next door" and "slut" and I don't think women are the ones drawing that line most of the time. And that's troubling.

Take enough daily bombardment of this conflicting (and unsolicited) input, and eventually your ability to tolerate it just plain short-circuits.

The day I was "mansplained" to about "artistic responsibility" from someone whose success was due far more to luck and connections than hard work and actual responsibility (after having watched that person abdicate and delegate much of said work and responsibility) was the day I ran out of fucks to give. Because that was when I realized that little gobshite actually had zero authority over the narrative of my life, my inspiration, and my trajectory as an artist. And that's when I realized that the main reason all this input always feels a bit "off", is because the issue here is with THEM, not with ME. THEY would prefer I smile more, or wear a short skirt, or write a certain type of song, or feel bad about myself if I choose not to.

So next time you run into a woman (in music or society at large), consider that perhaps she's not trying to be "cold" or "aloof" or "angry" or "bitchy." We're just out here doing our thing, trying to be authentically ourselves, and have simply run out of fucks to give.