March 2014 Newsletter
MY PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM
In the wake of the recent YouTube debate on the merits of creationism as a viable model for the origins of life, I have been thinking a lot about how evolution affects my own life. I mean this metaphorically, of course, as evolution happens on a level beyond any individual (to which my compassionate wife will attest). The notion of monkeys or molecules turning into man amazingly still gets some folks all worked up, but what I've been wrestling with of late is the evolutionary concept of punctuated equilibrium.
This theory, attributed to Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, posits an interesting explanation for our occasional failure to unearth fossilized intermediaries demonstrating gradual change from species to another. Punctuated equilibrium proposes that many species endured long periods of time with relatively little evolutionary change (stasis), only to be interrupted by shorter, tempestuous episodes characterized by the explosion of speciation events. You can find a nice explanation of this theory here.
There has been a lot of debate about punctuated equilibrium and the validity of its predictions, but for this artist the general idea resonates deeply. I go through stretches where my artistic groove feels like it has deepened into a rut, where the days march by and nothing much seems to happen. This sort of stasis is palpable in every aspect of my musical life--getting gigs, developing instrumental prowess, writing new songs, etc. Recently, I felt like this with respect to record-making, as several years had elapsed since my previous solo record and I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do next. It was very disorienting, like being adrift on a sea of evolutionary doldrums with no wind in my sails and no land in sight.
This equilibrium started to get punctuated last fall when new projects began to emerge on a variety of fronts. Lori McKenna wanted to record an acoustic EP with just the two of us and we booked some studio time. Paula Cole wanted to get serious about making a live record, so we started wading through concert tapes and writing set lists with that in mind. I finished a couple of songs that seemed perfect for my bluegrass group Barnstar!, and we started planning our next record. Best of all, the creative juices flowing from all these side projects got me in such an experimental mood that I came up with palpable ideas to explore for my next solo record...and the one after that!
I haven't felt the rush that comes with all these new projects since 2010-11, which saw the release of Little Vigils, as well as a collection of murder ballads with Jeffrey Foucault, Barnstar!'s debut and a live bootleg. It's only been 4 years or so, but a lot has happened in the music biz since then and it's unclear to me how to ensure that all these new projects get heard. Still, having a lot of music to unleash on the world is a good problem to have. And I guess when you get right down to it, maybe punctuated equilibrium is just a fancy way of stating that when it rains, it pours.
After all the snow we've had this winter, I say let it rain.
MP3 of the MONTH: I've written a couple of songs inspired by evolution and the life of Charles Darwin, but I ain't written nothing as good as Chris Smither's "Origin Of Species," which I cover this month. I knew I couldn't match Mr. Smither's fingerstyle guitar either so I shifted the whole thing over to mandolin to be safe. Then I realized that Tim O'Brien plays mandolin on the original version of this song. So, basically, I can't win, but here it is. It's available for free for the month of March over at my Bandcamp page. Enjoy!
Sat Mar 1st - West Side Folk, Lawrence KS - 7:30 pm
The shows are always great and the audiences warm when I head out to the Great Plains, which is good because I always seem to visit during the winter months. Does March constitute "spring" out in this neck of the woods? We shall see. This show, my first headlining date for this series, is held at the Unity Church of Lawrence.
Sun Mar 2nd - Winter Wind Concerts at the Performing Arts Studio, Norman OK - 7 pm
The first time I played in Norman OK, I had a wonderful interview with local reporter/lawyer/poet Jim Chastain. He came to the show, gave me a book of poems about his struggle with cancer, and I turned one of them into a song ("Coming Home" on Little Vigils). Jim unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but I always look forward to returning to Norman to play his song as a small tribute. This series is held in an old train depot, the sound is always great and I can promise a good time will be had by all.
Supporting RED MOLLY
Fri Mar14th - Stone Mountain Arts Center, Brownfield ME - 8 pm
Sat Mar 15th - Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport MA - 8 pm
There is no bigger compliment to a songwriter than someone else, anyone else, singing your songs. By that measure, the ladies in Red Molly have always been amongst my most vocal supporters, having recorded two of them on their own records (Ghost and Why Should I Cry). I'm excited to open several shows for them this month, in some of the best venues in the northeast. I will perform a solo opening set, and then join the band on guitar and lap steel for a healthy portion of their set.
Sat Mar 22nd - Circle Of Friends Coffeehouse, Franklin MA - 8 pm
New England is known for its church coffeehouse circuit, and on any given Saturday night the Circle Of Friends is one of the best. This show features Lori McKenna, so I am pretty sure that at least on this particular Saturday, the Circle of Friends will be THE best. I'll open the show and then join Lori for her set.
Supporting RED MOLLY
Thu Mar 27th - The Barns at Wolf Trap, Vienna VA - 8 pm
Sat Mar 29th - Steinman Hall @ The Ware Center, Lancaster PA - 7:30 pm
Two more nights with Red Molly, this time a bit farther south. The Barns is one of my favorite venues in the country, and it's always nice to play Lancaster, where proximity to all those Pennsylvania Dutch desserts is an opportunity to show my sweet tooth who is boss.
Fri Mar 21 - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton MA (with Lori McKenna)
Fri Mar 28 - South Orange Performing Arts Center, South Orange NJ (with Red Molly)
ON THE HORIZON:
April 5 - Sounding Board Coffeehouse, West Hartford CT
May 2 - Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton MA (headlining show!)
May 9 - Me & Thee Coffeehouse, Marblehead MA
May 10 - Sumner Knight Series, Keene NH
May 16 - San Benave Concerts, League City TX