July 2016 Newsletter
Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Every July, America is awash in red, white and blue as we celebrate our independence from the British and the birth of our nation. Though sometimes distracted by fireworks and cookouts, it is an opportunity to reflect, as a nation, on what makes us "us." I've been thinking a lot about this, both as a citizen and a songwriter. What should we proudly celebrate as exemplary? What should we shamefully disavow or strive to improve?
In addition to the actual independence we claimed from King George over 200 years ago, we have also consistently liberated ourselves ideologically. From our struggle with slavery and civil rights to women's suffrage and marriage equality, from the battle to preserve the integrity of our environment to universal health care and the Labor movement--we have time and again enshrined into law our independence from the tyranny of old ways of thinking. No one may credibly claim our perfection or superiority in every aspect, but overall we have arced toward freedom, both from chains with which others would enslave us and those with which we shackle ourselves.
This summer feels ripe for another step toward independence, one that liberates us from the partisan vitriol which ensnares us in unhelpful ideas and outdated legislation. Specifically, I think we have a real opportunity to address the issue of gun violence, both the kind that generates horrific, headline-grabbing massacres in Newtown, San Bernardino and Orlando, and the more consistent, incremental misery so familiar to the streets of Chicago and other major cities. No one wants people to die. No one wants to casually discard freedoms enshrined in our Consitution and Bill of Rights. I realize we harbor different definitions of what these freedoms should mean. But like many other times in our history--through a combination of raised awareness and education, civic discourse, and civil disobedience--we must demand our elected officials bend to the will of the people, seek compromise, and find a way to at least begin to legislate us out of the quagmire and public health crisis of gun violence.
As an artist, or even a citizen whose background is in bugs and evolutionary biology, I don't claim to know what key will set us free. Re-instating assault weapons bans? Universal background checks? Closing gun show loopholes? Those all sound conceptually promising to me. One potential area of comprise sidesteps access to guns, and instead focuses on firearm accessories and tighter regulation of high-capacity magazines. Regardless of the specifics, at a bare minimum we need tangible, national progress toward independence from gun festishism and NRA influence on policy-making. Having one party flee Congressional chambers for vacation in the middle of the night, while the other party sits in a half-empty chamber singing "We Shall Overcome" is simply unbecoming of whatever country we think we are.
There's a deeply resonant song called "None Of Us Are Free," which I first heard on Solomon Burke's fantastic 2002 record Don't Give Up On Me. My favorite lyric is:
There are people still in darkness
They just can't see the light
If you don't say it's wrong
Then that says it's right
If that's not us, right now, I don't know what is. Where we are on gun violence--this new and horrifying normal that claims children of every age, color, creed and orientation--is wrong.
Now, as ever, we need yet another independence. We have done it before, so many times. May we find the courage to free ourselves again.
LORI McKENNA "WRECK YOU TOUR:" I am pleased to announce that I'll be opening several of the dates on Lori McKenna's tour for her upcoming album "The Bird & The Rifle." I'll also be playing in Lori's band for much of this tour, the same as I've done for over 10 years now. Her new record is fantastic and I can't wait to continue my role in helping her bring these new songs to the stage.
MP3 of the MONTH: Last fall, I wrote a song very much inspired by the thoughts expressed above called "By Degrees." I recorded it quickly at home and released it for free (you can still get it HERE). In the course of playing it around the country, it changed a bit--a lyrical tweak here, a variation in dynamics there. I performed it on the steps of the Massachusetts State House at a rally hosted by Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America last December, and then I drove to NH where I peformed it at a small venue in Tamworth NH. That latter performance was recorded and I wanted to share it with you. You can download it HERE for free for the month of July. Enjoy!
Fri July 22 - Jammin' Java, Vienna VA - 7:30 pm
This is the first show of Lori McKenna's "Wreck You" tour, to support her brand-new album The Bird & The Rifle. I'll open the show solo with a set of my own, then I'll join Lori and her band. This will be your first chance to hear the new songs live with a band and pick up the record.
Sat July 23 - Ebb & Folk, Gloucester MA - 1 pm
A brand new festival on Massachusetts' North Shore? And I get to do my own set (with Charlie Rose on banjo/pedal steel) and then play with headliner Lori McKenna and her band? Sign me up! You should get on board too.
I don't have any purely sideman gigs this month, but you never do know where I'll pop up unannounced.
ON THE HORIZON:
Aug 4 - City Winery, New York NY* *opening for/playing with Lori McKenna
Aug 13 - Sinclair, Cambridge MA*
Aug 19 - Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield ME*
Aug 20 - Spire Center, Plymouth MA*
Aug 27-28 - Shrewsbury Folk Fest, Shrewsbury UK (with Barnstar!)