November 2014 Newsletter
Thursday, October 23, 2014
THE VIEW FROM HERE
On a recent drive up to New Hampshire at the tail end of foliage season, I revelled in the sharp and crisp autumn sunlight careening off the gold and crimson leaves. I passed many opportunities to pull off at a "Scenic Outlook," each one nestled by the side of road, overlooking nearby valleys and distant mountains. It got me thinking about the roots of why we find such vistas pleasing--is it purely aesthetic or might there be a deeper reason?
As highly visual creatures who weren't always at the apex of the food chain or so easily able to engineer our environment, our ability to take in and process large amounts of visual information conferred upon us an evolutionary advantage. Simply put, we prefer environments that present us with a high degree of information, easily perceived and comprehended. If we can see the storm clouds coming, or identify an approaching herd of prey (or a stalking predator), things are going to ultimately work out better for us. But I imagine this sort of advantage could also be enjoyed from a sheltered location, with a smaller vantage point but one which still allows us relatively safe access to available resources (e.g. a cave dwelling).
I've been thinking a lot about the modern music business, both as a fan and an artist, and see several correlates in the evolution of our listening habits. Streaming services allow us to survey a nearly infinite musical geography, something music consumers find increasingly desirable. At the same time I think we continue to shelter ourselves, isolated from much of what surrounds us, content to listen to the relatively narrow slice of the musical landscape we can view from the mouth of our caves.
In America, we revere explorers and pioneers as part of our national creation myth. We tell ourselves that our country was founded by those brave souls who pushed forward into broad swaths of unknown territory, through the tangled undergrowth filled with shadows and mystery. It's an oversimplification, but also a useful metaphor for both the creation and consumption of art.
As a musician, I should constantly push myself beyond those comfortable vantage points, deeper into the unknown. Sure I open myself up to failure and obscurity (which beat getting eaten, I guess), but also to the possibility of new terrain, with which I can interact with all the wisdom I've gained from the journey. As a fan, I am sure I could gain from venturing beyond the mouth of my musical cave. What could I glean from even rudimentary explorations of classical music? Jazz? (gasp) Rap?
As an artist and a listener, I find the prospect of such expeditions both daunting and exciting. That so many of you have journeyed this far alongside of me never fails to make me feel grateful. From the High Plains of Western Swing, through the Valley of Lullabies, fording rivers of Murder Ballads and crossing fields of Bluegrass, and now the pine and birch-filled Forest of Bill Morrissey Songs, I remain honored to travel together. Onward.
MP3 of the MONTH: It's only fitting that this month's track is a Bill Morrissey classic about journeying into the dark night of the soul, and the things we do to prepare ourselves for the expedition. It was recorded live last month at the MILLTOWNS cd release show at Passim, and features Charlie Rose on pedal steel and Richard Gates on bass. It's available for free for the month of November at my Bandcamp page. Enjoy!
Sat Nov 1st - Ripton Coffeehouse, Ripton VT - 7:30 pm
It's been awhile since I've been here, and I'm thrilled to take MILLTOWNS (and Charlie Rose on pedal steel & banjo) to northern VT. We'll be right down the road from some of Robert Frost's old haunts, so we'll certainly play "Birches" and maybe even swing on some too.
Sun Nov 2nd - Il Popolo (The Windham) - 12:00 pm
I've had so many memorable nights in Bellows Falls over the years. This will be a memorable afternoon as it's a brunch show! I'm going to close my eyes when I sing: I'm gluten & dairy free and I can't stand to watch other people eat pancakes. Mmmmm, pancakes.
I love touring with Red Molly: they play bigger rooms than I do, I get to open up the show and then play their entire set with them, and I have the best seat in the house when they inevitably cover some of my songs (as they've done on their last 2 records). It's a great combination, one you don't want to miss.'
Signature Sounds 20th Anniversary Celebration
Fri Nov 28th - Academy of Music, Northampton MA - 6:00 pm
Sat Nov 29th - Academy of Music, Northampton MA - 6 pm
I've had the honor of some degreer of association with this fine label for pretty much my entire career. I can't believe they've been around for 20 years, and I'm looking forward to the celebration. Fri night I'll play Chris Smither's 70th birthday celebration with Chris and his band the Motivators, plus special guests Jeffrey Foucault, Kris Delmhorst, Peter Mulvey and more. Sat evening, it's an embarrassment of riches as Barnstar! shares the bill with Heather Maloney, Eilen Jewell, Winterpills, Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers and more.
Sat Nov 15 - Discovery Theatre, Anchorage AK (with Paula Cole)
Fri Nov 21 - Grand Ole Opry @ The Ryman, Nashville TN (with Lori McKenna)