Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Music Awards

Two blogs in the same week... I can't help it. Other people use blogs to blow off steam, so I will try it to see if it helps.
We don't have cable or satellite, so the only information we get while off the road is through the internet. Of course the headline grabbed my attention right away... disasters at the AMA's! Well, I don't follow pop or country or top 40 anything, but I had to read about disasters and music, after all, no matter the genre, we musicians are all kindred spirits of sorts?
But the news clip made it blatantly clear that we are in NO way related! I could not believe my eyes and ears and what our modern culture accepts as entertainment and music.

JLo (however you spell that), falls down. Any other time I'd think tragedy! But she was parading around stepping on men, and who could concentrate on singing with all that leather strapped on? It didn't seem so tragic after all, sorry music Gods, she is not one of my tribe. Music? I thought not... shock value. Then Lady GaGa (however you spell that, I always associated that sound with babies) in a skin colored outfit with little Christmas lights and an octopus on her head... ok, interesting. Until she started breaking bottles and setting a piano on fire! Music? I thought not... shock value. Again, not of my tribe.
Then the Adam Lambert show. I'm not a prude. I don't care about anyone's sexual orientation. But dragging around a girl by the ankles? Miming oral sex? Deep throat kissing a band member? S&M on prime time television? Music? I thought not... more shock value. Certainly not of my tribe.

I don't appreciate Michael Jackson's addiction to his crotch while singing. But I do appreciate his musicality. I can't tell you if I appreciate the musicality of those mentioned above, because I simply can't remember anything but the shock value. Pole dancing, sexual miming, little or no clothing, outrageous movements and gymnastics... what about music? Lyric? Delivery? Connection? Am I the only one to want those items in my auditory experience? What does the rest of my species find entertaining about pretend sex, LED lights, destruction and shock?
What can be the next greatest shock value trick? I'm not sure I want to know. Maybe some new performer will really be unique and shock everyone with the simple beauty of music?
oh to find one of my tribe in mainstream music...
oh how outdated I am...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Meanderings in California

Touring in California… so like fish out of water…
We have spent so many years touring in rural America, sticking to the tiny two lane roads, working with students in schools so small that some of them really did only have two rooms. Performing concerts in every type of structure from county fairgrounds, Quonset huts, and middle-school cafeterias to high school gyms. Theaters old and failing, jury seats in city halls, corners of libraries, upstairs from the newspaper, downstairs from the Catholic Church. Oh there were the high tech and state of the art theaters, but you wouldn’t need both hands and feet to count them, they don’t exist in rural America, they are simply not a priority.

So when we find ourselves driving on 12 lane highways with millions of people, breathing toxins, acting aggressively to stay alive, never seeing a dark night sky or finding jello on the menu… we start feeling a bit squirmy!

The experiences of the metropolis give us a different perspective on humanity. While all is not rosy in the hinterlands of rural America, the ugly side of our species is more apparent in the city. The young woman with a baby, newly thrown out of her house and crying through the streets with no place to go… the thief in the night who resorted to cutting our fuel line to siphon our gas because our gas tank is anti siphon… the lack of patience at any level or in any public place… all began to grind on our souls before the end of our second tour to California this fall.

Our final performance was a private house concert, a fundraiser for the Merola Opera in San Francisco. It drove home to us, the incredible gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The opulence, the decadence, the opportunity of beauty, health, wealth, education and sheer excess might not have seemed so dramatic had we not just experienced a desperate Mom and a desperate gas thief. Two people with simple needs on the surface: shelter and transportation. But I think the needs run deeper. A chance to get an education. Opportunity to be safe. Health and safety. Shall I say it??? A society that cares about those less fortunate.

In that ubber wealthy home, the people were very kind and considerate. In our consumptive culture, we think that money will solve all our woes, but they were not necessarily happier. They were more beautiful. They were more educated. They did have life experiences that the average human will never have. But they were not happier, just a bit more secure maybe? And yet this past year has shown us how secure financial webbing can be… your flotation device just might be flawed.

It was a sobering trip to be sure. At the end of 2009, I find that our business has actually profited more money than the year before the recession. A fact that bears light on a humanity that still needs music, and soulful experiences. Getting paid is only the smallest part of why we do this crazy job. And while there are wealthy people ready and willing to pay more, the benefits for us in rural America outweigh the paycheck. I do love opening the ears of anyone who’ll listen to our music. A wheat farmer in North Dakota or a Corporate Realtor in San Francisco. They both can benefit from a night with Willson & McKee. But our hearts are deep seated in those closer to the earth, closer to a culture of community rather than corporation, closer to a society that looks after each other because that’s how you survive in the hinterlands.

We will be off to the Dakota’s, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota and parts northward starting in January. And though I second guess the timing based on past experiences with frigid winters in those states… However, I eagerly anticipate the heart and soul of rural folk. I need their simple lifestyle and generous living to cleanse my palette from the experiences in California…

Frozen tundra, insulated boots, hats and gloves, goosebumps, loading and unloading in subzero temps, jello on the menu…
Here we come!!!

A Poem for the gas thief:

I can picture him in my mind
Hispanic youth – angry clad
Nothing else to do but stalk
A parking lot
For a vulnerable enemy
White – middle-class – face-less
An anti-siphon gas tank
Adding only slight frustration
To his nocturnal maneuvers
For he is a warrior
With blade in hand – expert at anatomy
Clever and fearless
He deftly wields his weapon
On the jugular vein
And while not a fatal blow
They will limp, wounded
In the gray morning light
While he smiles at this small victory
And gas enough to raid another night

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Vegas and Beyond

Las Vegas, Nevada, the center of the artificial universe.
We really enjoy working in the schools here; there is such a bouquet of cultures and students of color! They are eager to hear music and to participate and even though there are some language barriers, we have a great time with them. We also enjoy our concerts here; proving that there are small clusters of thinking people who live here and enjoy acoustic music.

But last night, as we walked the strip, it was amazing to witness humanity’s craziness in all its glory. The hawking of pornography (we counted 17 card pushers on one corner alone), the glitz of flashing lights and loud music, rent a Ferrari, rent a tuxedo, rent a wedding chapel, rent a girl, see an overproduced and over priced show, eat overly expensive food that was trucked in from someplace else, and above all… watch the glazed eyes staring into blinking, noise making machines.

It was simply an out of body experience. Ken suggested a ‘folk club’, a place where folks could relax in a quieter atmosphere and hear good acoustic music, as a relief from all the over stimulation. I suggested that it would not make the casinos any money, and might in fact have the opposite effect of causing the stunned humans to awaken from the stupor and come to their senses! Neither of those outcomes is in the best interest of the casinos, so it would never happen.

The absurdity of the use of electricity and the use of water in a desert, all for the sake of entertainment, gave me pause. For we (Willson & McKee) are also in the ‘entertainment biz’. We don’t like to think of it in those terms, we imagine our work as more soulful than that. Educational, meaningful, thought provoking, perhaps even life altering somehow. But the reality is, that people flock to this circus of extremes, and leave thousands of dollars to be ‘entertained’. While at the same time the live performance of acoustic or folk music hovers over the abyss, with little or no visibility.

In a culture, which is always after the next big stimulation, our type of music and those like us will never enjoy mainstream popularity. I wonder about how far the boundaries can be stretched in order to accommodate the ‘extreme entertainment’ that so many seek. I also wonder what is says about a society who feels the need to fulfill every desire and beyond, even to the point of ‘renting’ the fun and the appearance of fun. Where does such opulence and indulgence end?

No sour grapes here, we understand the many faces of entertainment and showbiz.
We are happy to perform tonight for a handful of people who live here and crave a different experience. No tigers, no magicians, no stand-up comics, no free alcohol, no scantily clad babes, no flames, no ‘player cards’ to add gambling money to if they attend… just a few songs and tunes from a couple of ‘aging folkies’…
How… low key…
Can’t wait!!!!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

July 09

July 23, 2009

Blogging… a silly endeavor after a life altering experience!
After months and months of travel, and the most spectacular 6 weeks in Scotland, we are finally home. Facing mountains of mail, fix and repair of abandonment at the ‘ranch’, communication and bookings to catch up on, oddities of America… it’s all very surreal.
With non-stop summer guests, starting 24 hours after we landed, the trip itself is now awash in hosting those who come to vacation in Colorado. There will be no time to truly reflect until late August when we return from Montana.

Loving to write, I took great notes along the way. However there is a huge difference between documentary writing (to grasp points and not forget details), and creative writing. So along the way, my pencil was scribbling as fast as possible, but poems, stories and songs will have to come later.

I look at the lovely journal full, and wonder how I will work with those experiences?
How have those experiences changed me, and how can I change my small circle of existence now that I have dreamed in the pale summer nights of Scotland?

The biggest gift Scotland gave to us were the people! They have made such an impact on my heart… full-blown graciousness and hospitality. Friendships formed as easily as breathing. Teaching us with every sentence and gesture, sharing music and dance and laughter and history. The landscape and antiquities all swirl into marks on pages and I hope I can do them justice when I finally get quiet time to reflect on it all.

A human being goes halfway round the world, to discover that the sun is the same, except it stays up longer. The moon is the same, except it shines with an accent. The birds sing different tunes and the cows vocalize in Doric. The rain is different; it dampens heather rather than sage. The wind is unique; it carries gull’s cries and sea mist instead of pinion pollen and hunting nighthawks. Humans in Scotland look like humans here… they dance and sing and cry and burn dinner. They run errands and pay bills and clean the toilets. So magical, to discover… we really ARE of the same family!

In the meantime, I flit through the smudged pages when given a few minutes. I click on the hundreds of digital photos trying not to forget. I close my eyes and hear the voices of those who now… half a world away… are sleeping and unknowingly they, and Scotland, grace my days and nights… thank you.

May 09

Blog: May

Anticipation is a double-edged blade of despair and elation. Over the past few weeks I have developed to a love hate relationship with its fickle moods. Being in the midst of our busy season, we work diligently to have focus and right intent during our time with students and in concerts. But there are nagging butterflies in the belly for the upcoming trip to Scotland and England! How can they invade, in the middle of singing “The big ship sails down the alley alley-o” with 50 kindergartners! Flitting thru my mind while dancing a ceili dance with 6th graders! Bringing on a bathroom break in the middle of telling the ‘horses ears’ story! Not fare!

We visualize and wonder, we theorize and smile. The electrification of dreams and animation of fantasy take control over the daily business, and we have to pull the plug and ground ourselves to the task before us at this minute!

When not working, we discuss which instruments will go, and which will stay. Who will carry what, what to give our hosts as thank you gifts, and who will remember where we put the important things like passports (it takes both our brains to remember things these days). We weigh the weighty decisions of weather and moisture and which clothes will be the perfect weight. We pour over maps and read books and watch as the fine folks in the UK fill our schedule with the most amazing experiences and opportunities.

The despair creeps in; when… I realize that it is only 10 days away, instead of 2 months away. I know, we are supposed to be excited that it’s closer now than it was. But I was the child who’s tears welled up at the balloon lying lifeless on the floor the morning after the circus. I was the blubbering one cradling the limp lilacs that I picked the day before. Endings are very hard for me! The ‘ending’ of the anticipation comes with a bit of sadness. The trip will be here before I know it, and then the anticipation turns to experience, which in the blink of an eye will be a memory.

And it is the way of each day of life… anticipation… experience… memory.

My current companion: anticipation.
My next companion, experience.
My last companion, memory.

Mar 09

I’m a reluctant participant of the 'latest', 'greatest', 'trendy', 'bendy' sites like facebook/myspace/twitter/youtube/and any other new fangled 'must be seen' place!

Give me a landline, a letter with a stamp, and yup... the good old fashioned .com email! :))))) (can you tell I just spent 30 minutes attending to all the other sites except JIGHEADS.COM??? eeeeesh.)

I understand the current culture, I really do. I’m not trying to become a tottering elder who doesn’t like change. Although I remember my outright refusal, hands firmly placed on hips, with regard to our first computer! Why of course I’d rather do bookings with a phone (insert a curly cord that is always tangled) clenched between my ear and my shoulder. And of course it’s better to sit with an open atlas, a calendar, a calculator, and a spiral notebook, to conduct business. And who wouldn’t want to have dozens of spiral notebooks and three ring binders (one per state) at hand to have to look for contact information? I was proud of the balancing act, the instant problem solving, and the clenching of the gut at every phone call and calculation.

Yessiree… things have certainly changed for the better over the many years I’ve been working the business end of this music world! But the ‘black hole’ of gizmos, and the ‘abyss’ of time attached to said gizmos seem to gulp precious life.

Technology is a tool that makes me jitterier than a chainsaw. I know, it’s my generation; the young ones feel just the opposite. More visibility, more buzz, more communication super highways, more ‘inboxes’, more ‘friends’ and more ‘friends of friends’. For me it is simply more options for time suck-age. How much more can I be connected? How much more do I need to know, or think I need to know? If data is in the world and I’m not connected, is there still data in the world? What am I missing if I turn off the cell phone? How does the world go on, if I’m not on line every day? If I’m on line, but forget to check one of the sites will I miss a fan? A friend? A booking? How will they find me amid the cyber masses?

Technology even tries to creep into our physical traveling, there are those who have told us we need a GPS. “You’ll never get lost”. Well, we’ve never been lost! And I love maps… the colors, the searching of interesting town names, and places of interest while we are finding road numbers. There is something so very magical about maps. I certainly don’t want a robotic voice telling me where to go, I have enough voices in my head as it is! Let me navigate and take my chances… let me have one piece of my world that is NOT digital… It’s not always about going from point A to point B without side trips or unforeseen detours. That’s what makes life… well, LIFE! (see my poem below).

And yet…
Here I sit, writing this blog on computer number five (since the refusal of computer number one)! Everything I ever knew, everyone I ever knew and everything I need to know is in this little black box. Maybe YOU are reading this blog of words; maybe no one is reading it… so here are MY things to ponder:
Am I more satisfied with my work time? At times…
More savvy? Somewhat…
Am I more marketable? Nope…
More famous? Definitely nope…
More grounded in my relationships? Only time will tell…

The Atlas

The atlas lies lifeless on my lap
My fingers run over the smooth page
But paper is not what I feel
Its colorful lines are brail to my soul

My memory sees the roads I’ve traveled
My imagination sees the ones I have not
The dots with names of towns
Become the faces of the people who live there

The implied landscape
From barren, to lush
From flat, to lofty
Rivers, lakes, mountains
Leap into my heart

And the most important of all…

Those gaps of white
With no ink
Where the map
And the un-initiated
Assume there is nothing

To that empty fullness
The heart of a traveler
Is drawn

Feb. 09

Language of the next generation:
A ‘blog’? Kenny has challenged me to write a ‘blog’?
It’s not a word that smoothly glides over the curves of the ear and into the swirls of synapses to create a picturesque moment in language…

And yet it is the new catchword for something to say, running off at the mouth, diarrhea of thought, rambling of intellect (or lack of it), opinions with or without merit, and commentary on commentary. I’m not sure there are many people who have something to say that should actually be written, or read, or remembered these days, including myself. Mostly there is too much ‘verbiage’ out in the universe with too little content, just a white noise to add to the existing white noise.

HOWEVER! Since I LOVE to write, and in my own head (like everyone else), I think I have to speak for the voices that dwell there, and since Kenny challenged me… why not?

So here goes the first ‘blog’ of my life:
HI!! I am a musician just home from a wonderful tour. We froze to death in North and South Dakota, but loved working with the kids in the schools and had great concerts. We finished up in Evanston, Wyoming at a wee Celtic festival where we were honored to teach, perform, sit in sessions and make memories with local musicians and the amazing and iconic band Dervish! Lucky US!!

The world is in spasm. But the events, schools, workshops and activities we have been involved with over the past 7 weeks, have been more soulful, more memorable and more needed than ever in our 18 years of this business.

My opinion is that this 'crisis' is exactly what the soul of the world needed to rehabilitate the addiction to money and consumerism for the sake of consumerism. Perhaps it is the universe itself saying: “without each other, without quality experiences, without loving relationships (which take time investment not money investment), without compassion, giving, creativity and reintroduction to each other, your species can be eliminated”... just my little theory.

Although 'arts' money is disappearing before our eyes, bloodletting of programs, schools are digging foxholes and climbing in, communities are frozen, sponsorships have been ‘beamed up’ to other planets, and media reminds us minute by minute how bad things are... The whole reason we do this thing we do is for the soulful exchange of humanity at the point of hearing music, laughing, engaging with each other and us. So perhaps there will be those who still need to do that, and maybe take lessons to do it for themselves, and maybe school kids will be moved to carry the torch of the arts and the human experience despite the politics and the economy...

Well, I’ve done it… I’ve ‘blogged’.
Spewing forth the written word for no other reason than to hear myself type.
It is therapeutic, but I’d rather do it face to face with all our family, friends, fans and mystery people. The world of cell phones, texting, email, myspace, facebook, websites, call forwarding, answering machines, blackberry’s, laptops, and other techno mania, has left me feeling more isolated than ever. Hand writing letters, licking stamps dropping envelopes into the abyss of the mail box, reaching into the mailbox to find a treasure there from a friend, hearing a voice on the phone to laugh immediately with, looking into the face of an elder while they tell a story, holding the hand of a child while they recount a dream, whispering into the ear of a loved one during a hug… ‘I Love You’…

There isn’t a blog in the world that can do that…