Saturday, March 14, 2015

What I Learned from Carl Strong

I met Carl Strong in a waiting room. We were both having our cars worked on (his an Escalade, mine a little Volkswagon.) His presence filled the room. I made eye contact with him and knew we would talk, and sure enough, within a few minutes everyone in the waiting room was chatting away like old friends.

You know what it's like in waiting rooms! The mixture of boredom and sitting on the edge of your seat, hoping the repair doesn't cost too much. I bring a book to read but I can't really focus. I try not to peer inside to see if they are working on my car. I look outside. I listen to the man at the desk answer the phone. I read the magazines they have like AARP (great interview with Bob Dylan!)

Carl sat down a seat away from me. I smiled and gave him a look that meant that I was open to talking.

He told me a lot of things- like how a few years ago he had a heart transplant. I said, "Wow! Congratulations!" He has the heart of a 23-year-old in his body.

Carl Strong is nationally touring comedian. He has shared the stage with people like Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson.

He had a lot to share about what brought him to needing a heart transplant. Habits, addiction, and the lifestyle and sometimes struggles of being an entertainer.

And although Carl is a 50-something year old comedian I sat with him and I related. I listened.

I don't really identify with being an "entertainer" - but wait, maybe I do.

He was talking about feeling a little sick sometimes, or not feeling up to par, and the demand of going on stage, delivering, "There's people waitin' on me!" So you do what you need to do to deliver. You deliver... and it's easy to justify that at whatever cost.

I think most of us can relate. We put ourselves, our health, second to whatever it is.. career, money, love life, our children even.. we do it because of some type of rule we made for ourselves.

Soon enough, Carl included the other people in the room into our conversation. One man was excited to talk about his love for Pink Floyd! The whole energy in the room was different. Even after Carl left, I found myself playing tic-tac-toe with the five-year-old next to me (maybe the best part of this!)

I don't know if Carl knew how much I could relate to some of the things he was saying. I'm thankful for what he shared! I know as I keep learning and growing, becoming wiser (I hope!) about living a healthy life, a sustainable one, I'll think of Carl Strong and his heart.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Why I Feel at Home in the Bluegrass Community

Confession- I did not grow up listening to bluegrass music.

Almost five years ago now I was asked to be in a bluegrass band. I started listening to some of the classics- Earl Scruggs, Tony Rice, Bill Monroe, Ricky Skaggs..

And don't get me wrong- I've always been attracted to acoustic music... folk music... roots!

Let me tell you....

Becoming part of the bluegrass family here in the Midwest these last few years, it's been the most incredible experience.

The bluegrass community is loving, welcoming, artistic, exciting, and generally.. lovers of fun.

This past weekend we spent at Swamp N Grass in Elkhart Lake, WI. This festival has been running over twenty years. Set in the dead of winter, it was the first time I had seen many festival goers since the summer time. And we were all quite ready to have a good time playing, singing, and sharing space together.

So many smiles, the late night picking in the hotel rooms and corridors, the laughter, the dancing, the vibe that grew throughout the course of the three days there.. the friendships that start to feel like family after a while.. watching people grow, watching musicians grow in their playing and their writing...

One of the biggest highlights of the weekend was watching Art Stevenson & Highwater Band. Being present with them as they played their music was a learning experience. I could feel their humble happiness... Art's grinning face! I could feel myself harmonizing along with them unintentionally- stilling my soul.

And once again I'm left with this feeling of gratitude that affirms what sometimes feels like the MOUNTAIN we have been trying to climb. And I'm reminded that there really is no destination, no mountain top, no real place we we are trying to get to that we don't have already within ourselves. Just like those dancers who are moving but not for the sake of getting anywhere... Just like the songs that build and build... and end, leaving traces of what was only real in the moment.. or real all the time.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Duluth, Duluth

Every winter I lose a part of myself- I wonder if the earth takes it out of me. Staring at the rows and rows and rows of birches mile after mile in northern Wisconsin, the blues and the grays, the snow blanketing patchy areas... stirs in me- knocks on the door of the little girl in me. The best way I could describe that feeling is as a knowing that we're all the same- those trees are a part of the same thing I am- we're made up of the same stuff. It hits me in different ways at different times- sometimes it's subtle and sometimes it's intense, but it's always beautiful.

We drove up to Minocqua on Friday- taking our time on the way up there. It was nice to make a trip up north on a weekend where the weather warmed up a little. We played at Minocqua Brewing Company- it really is a joy to play there! I always feel very welcomed by the staff- it seems as though we're all part of a bigger family! I'm thankful they take such good care of us. We stretched our legs out during the set and had a good time hanging out with everyone! 

Saturday we drove up farther to Duluth. I love Northern Wisconsin and Minnesota! And the UP! We went through towns like Ashland and Butternut. I read a lot, looked at the trees, tried to look at every little town we passed through. Always wondering what it's like for people there. The differences in perspectives of others never ceases to really stretch my mind. 

Driving through these towns, it's easy to feel their shoes on my feet. I can see where they live, where they go. There's the grocery store, there's the laundromat, there's the Catholic Church and there's the Protestant. There's the diner, the school,  and there's the two or three or four downtown bars. Unless they're going out of town... there it is. 

And I think a lot of people find it appealing, maybe the simplicity of it. It could even seem romantic. 

We went through Ashland where we stopped at a coffee shop which was in an very large old house. There was a man playing harp. Across the street was Lake Superior. There was a room for rent upstairs. 

And then we arrived in Duluth.

Duluth, it's like a giant small town.
It's got creativity dripping down it's dirty old downtown buildings.
It's got some of the most welcoming people you'll ever find.
A history so rich it's as if the people of the past are walking down the street next to you. Every so often they cast a glance your way- you look-...
Duluth has long, long winters,

Duluth has water and big beautiful bridges that light up at night. As we rolled in I saw an enormous boat in the water- "American Integrity." 

Duluth attracts me, it inspires me. I don't know how to describe the vibe there for me other than that it is strong! There's a sexual energy. A young appetite for art and a respect for social activism.

We played at a place called The Red Herring Lounge. Huge paintings of horses hung on all the walls. They were a little abstract, very colorful. 

Across the street is Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. In 1920, there was a lynching involving three men who were in a traveling circus. The men were abducted by a large mob of people (between five and ten thousand, according to their website), beaten and hung on a lamppost right near the memorial.

The event, and the men who died were nearly forgotten, and in the second part of the century- a grass roots effort sprang up and the memorial was built.

I walked across the street and stood before the memorial, reading some of the quotes that are engraved on the cement in large letters. 

"We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.
We are pain and what cures pain.
We are sweet, cold water and the jar that pours."

Other quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh, Martin Luther King Junior, Anne Lamott, Oscar Wilde, Euripides, Elie Wiesel, George Bernard Shaw, and others. Thirteen quotes in all.

I spent some time with the quotes, spent some time with some Duluth friends- old and new, listened to the Lowland Lakers, Matt Ray and his fiddler, and Nick Foytik.

We piled into the van early Sunday morning, and drove back down south, back for the Packer game, back to our lovers and our own beds.

Winter keeps passing, and everyone around me seems pretty optimistic that we're all going to make it! And I think we are.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Madison's Oldest- the Majestic

The Majestic Theatre first opened on December 15th, 1906- making it Madison's oldest theatre! According to their website, the Majestic has had everything from silent movies to Harry Houdini's infamous magic show!

On September 29th, 2007, the Majestic Theatre had a grand reopening- this time as a "world class performing arts venue." The idea sprouted from a partnership between a musician who was disenfranchised with the treatment given to musicians at venues all across the country, and a booking agent. The two men, originally from the Midwest, met in Los Angeles and decided to open their own venue.

Two years later they did it- in Madison, Wisconsin.

Personally, the Majestic Theatre is one of my favorite venues I have had the pleasure to play, and at this point in my life I would say it has been my favorite place to sing. Vibrations reverberate so beautifully off of the truly majestic walls of the Majestic Theatre. There's room for sitting, there's room for standing and dancing. It's big but not too big! And the vibe is warm. It's a show I can comfortably invite my parents or any of my friends to and know that they'll have fun and be comfortable. As we grow as a band, I really care about the type of places we are asking our friends, family, and other supporters to come to. I'm proud to invite them to the Majestic Theatre.

This Friday night, we will be joining three fantastic bands to play Wisconsin Bluegrass Fest at the Majestic Theatre. Madison's publication, The Isthmus, is presenting this all ages show. Doors open at 7:30, show starts at 8:30. Tickets are only $10, and if you RSVP on the Majestic's facebook event, you will be entered to win a free upgrade to a VIP Opera Box. Click here for the facebook event!

Joining us this Friday are these three bands: (you can click on any of the links to check out more about them!)

PS. My favorite show I've attended at the Majestic Theatre was Jim James. How about you?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

I love music because...

I love music because it connects. It creates.

I love music because it's interesting and passionate and unexplainable- infinite.

I love the muse because the muse is everyone and everything.

The muse is you and the muse is me and the muse is everyone and everything.

I love music because it is soul speak.

Because music is healing.

Monday, December 22, 2014

(Trendy) Ugly Sweaters, the Yuletide, and Bluegrass Happenings

Happy Winter Solstice from the Dead Horses!

Above you see our fiddle/mandolin player, Tim, with his Minneapolis doppelganger. Not only did she happen to wear a shockingly similar sweater, but she also is a GINGER! So great to cross paths!

Saturday we had the great pleasure of playing the 6th annual Yuletide Sweater Ball at the beautiful Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. I really enjoyed spending time with Travis and Kendall from The Lowest Pair- if you haven't heard of them go check them out now! We also got to play with Sans Souici and The Pistol Whippin Party Penguins. There's SO MUCH great music out there!

I found myself with a couple hours after the sound check and before the show, so I decided to take a stroll. I found myself sitting in a booth drinking a tasty old fashioned and looking up information about winter solstice.

I love the Midwest, but winter is hard for me! I could write about that but I have to wonder if it's even necessary. For those of us who live here, we know. There's a knowing about winter. Every year I take on a somewhat different strategy as to challenge myself to accept winter in a healthier way.

The Winter Solstice is the shortest day of the year, and although winter is truly just beginning, it also marks the days getting longer. This is a day that has been celebrated by human beings for thousands of years! I really appreciate that as it stands for our connection to human beings of the past in the way of human beings connecting with the earth and the cosmos.

The Winter Solstice marks the return of the sun, (just like Christmas celebrates the coming of the Son) and I find myself respecting darkness and its place... as well as the return of light. It's a time to take a step back and look at your life- a pre winter cleansing- what to walk with and what to walk from.

Having said all of that, we are pretty excited to take a little bit of time off from traveling and spend time with our families! Our next show is on New Year's Eve at the The Source Public House in Menasha. There is so much to be thankful for this year and I'm thoroughly excited to be sharing the coming of the New Year so close to home. On January 9th, we have been very excited to announce that we will be headlining the Isthmus Bluegrass Fest at the Majestic in Madison. This is quite the opportunity for us and we are looking forward to playing in such a beautiful venue with a great lineup of bands.

Happy holidays everyone and we hope to see you all soon!

Dead Horses @ The Source Public House (New Year's Eve!)

Dead Horses @ The Majestic (January 9th)

Monday, December 1, 2014

The hardest part of being a musician?

Not really sure to be honest! My answer today would be different than tomorrow or next week or year.

One thing I do find to be challenging time and again is in regards to the performance aspect. We'd all like to think of ourselves as artists, but we're creating our art every single time we play, every performance. If there's not a recording (and even if there is, really) there's nothing left behind besides a memory. Imagine if every painting done was invisible as soon as it was finished. How would that change the way we perceive paintings?

A lot of these thoughts came to me while thinking about the difference of playing at home in a room by myself and how I feel when I'm on stage with Dead Horses. In addition to the sound being different (room sound, amps and speakers, crowd noise etc) as well as all that extra energy rolling around the room, the lights, the smells, the set list or lack of one, the energy the band before left on stage and in the room...

There's also the freedom in sitting at home alone... choice to pick up the guitar when you want to, play whatever you want to, sing or not sing, stop a song in the middle or play it five times in a row. There's therapy in that.

And on stage the idea of what's going to happen and what needs to happen is different in every person's head- especially in the audience. This whole idea is partially why it's hard to hear people shout out songs that you don't really feel like playing!

At the same time, there's challenge in staying fresh on stage- a challenge that requires some discipline. And the reward is getting to work with new energy at every single show, to experience every song differently every time you play it, and to do that is a give and take between all the people in the room.

This I find as very spiritual.. we pack ourselves in these rooms and move our bodies around to the sound waves, energy waves back and forth, back and forth. Push and pull, ride, repeat.