In addition to driving or hitchhiking to San Francisco for music, there was plenty of music right near our home in and around Santa Cruz. The center of activity was the Pacific Avenue pedestrian mall. This was the major hangout spot. There was always music there. There were always buskers (street musicians). I once saw Arlo Guthrie playing on a street corner. We hung out for a little while, and he told me that he liked to busk because it was a good reminder of where he came from. Paul and I occasionally busked there too, but he was working full-time, and we had our first baby, so our time was limited. That didn’t mean we weren’t playing tons, just not on street corners. We once went to a party and jammed with Sammy Hagar. Another time, I sat in on vocals with Don McCaslin’s band, Warmth, at the Cooper House, an old courthouse from the 1890s turned into a restaurant and café. They played there every day and night, usually outdoors by the sidewalk café. There were great clubs, too. The Catalyst was a cool, funky venue right in the hub of the action. Unfortunately, it was destroyed during the big earthquake that happened there years after we were gone. It was rebuilt but had lost its funky quality that made it so warm and welcoming.
There was always something or someone interesting to be found on Pacific Avenue. One day, as I rounded a corner, there was a man in full combat gear, guns and all, just standing there like a statue. I thought at first that he was until he moved slightly. He was protesting “the police state.” Another day, I was walking along when I heard a familiar voice. Back when we were living in Connecticut, just before we decided to leave on our big adventure, we had picked up a hitchhiker near Hartford and brought him to our apartment where he stayed for almost a week. His name was David. He was homeless and traveling the country by thumb. He played harmonica, so we stayed up night after night jamming and partying. When he left for the west coast, we gave him some winter gear, hat, coat and gloves, so he wouldn’t freeze. David had the most unique voice. It had been destroyed by cigarettes and alcohol but had a very melodic, though raspy, quality to it. Now, here he was, holding court on Pacific Avenue, playing his harp and regaling all the hippies with his stories. He recognized me immediately and insisted I sit with him for a while singing along.
We were often running into people we knew. Paul randomly found a former co-worker from Connecticut, and I found out that my cousin Tommy was living in Santa Cruz. By the time I tracked him down, he was moving on the next day. He was only a couple of blocks away from our apartment, and we had a nice visit. We also ran into the woman who had given us a ride out of the blizzard in Big Springs, Nebraska. Then, there were the folks we just ran into in San Francisco. This still happens to me all the time. Five years ago, I went out to Oregon to the Oregon Country Faire, a huge hippie festival held every July Fourth weekend/week. As I was walking through the packed crowd of thousands of people, I saw an old friend from Albany who was vacationing there. Neither of us had been in touch for a while and were quite surprised to see each other there. Though, I have to admit that I’m not really surprised by much these days.
My life changed in so many ways while living there. I was raised on fast food, TV dinners, instant mashed potatoes and Velveeta cheese. Suddenly, I found myself in an environment where there were food coops and people harvesting wild foods. There were natural healers using plants instead of chemicals to cure illnesses. There were nursing mothers everywhere of all ages, not just young hippies. I started learning all of these things, using herbs for healing, learning about vegetarianism and finding out more about nutrition than I’d ever imagined. There was a wonderful bookstore on the mall simply called “Bookshop Santa Cruz.” One day I found a cookbook in the free box on the sidewalk outside entitled “The Bread Book.” I started baking my own bread. I made bagels and pizza dough, bread, biscuits, muffins, coffee cakes, and more. I still own that book and use it often, as tattered and stained as it is. It still has the best cornbread recipe I’ve ever found. I also got the Tassajara Bread Book at that bookstore. It was in Santa Cruz that I ate my first taco and discovered my love for Mexican cuisine. I ate my first taste of Jicama at a potluck dinner in San Francisco that was a fundraiser for a Hispanic community and met Malvina Reynolds there.
We also discovered Peyote in Santa Cruz. We’d heard of it, of course, but hearing about it and trying it are two vastly different things. We got a batch and cleaned it thoroughly, removing all of the little while strychnine hairs. It was disgusting to eat, but once you vomited, it was like entering another world of light and color. It was the opposite of mushrooms, which I always found dark and foreboding. It was worth feeling like I was going to die for those minutes, which did seem like hours, until I purged the poison. It was easy to get, and eventually, we made it into iced tea. Our favorite snack became iced tea and pot cookies. Pot was readily and easily available as well. The Vietnam War had ended in April of 1975 and California was getting Vietnamese refugees. Some of them were a little sketchy, but we were all about peace, love and acceptance, so when we met a guy who offered to sell us a pound at an unbelievable price of $100, Paul decided to take the chance.
That was a lot of money for us back then, so we hit up two other friends to see if they wanted to get in on the deal. Of course, they did. The dealer was understandably very paranoid so they came up with a plan for Paul to walk through San Lorenzo Park and leave a paper bag with the money under the designated bridge where there would be a paper bag waiting for him there. He was not to stop but had to just pick up the bag and keep walking. When he got to the bridge, there was the bag with the dealer standing nearby. Paul picked it up and walked on. The dealer picked up the bag with the money, took a quick look inside and ran like a bat out of hell. At that point Paul looked inside the heavy bag and found a pound cake. By that time, the other guy was long gone. Paul came home a very seriously cut up the pound cake into equal portions and we all ate our hundred-dollar cake with a chaser of iced tea. Luckily, our friends were understanding, and we all chalked it up to a lesson learned.
So, why did we ever leave? That story is coming next.
One of the best things about living on the west coast in the 1970’s was the music. We saw the best shows there. Paul and I had been “Deadheads” for a while before making it west. So far, we’d only seen east coast shows. The Grateful Dead was a San Francisco band. We didn’t follow them around the country the way many others did, but during those traveling days we always seemed to be where they were. Who knows, maybe they were following us. The first Dead show I ever saw was 1972, somewhere in New Jersey. I struggle to remember details from those earlier days. Then Paul and I saw them together all over the east coast, mostly in New Haven and Hartford, Connecticut, New York City and New Jersey. East Coast concerts had a very different vibe than the West Coast shows. Some of the best shows were The Garcia Band with many different people sitting in including Papa John Creech at one show just blocks from our house where Amber could babysit. We saw Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmy Lou Harris. We went to a local bar to see Neil Young’s band The Ducks, but Paul was too young to get in, so we stood outside and listened.
We also saw The Garcia Band with Nicky Hopkins at The Keystone in Berkley on New Year’s Eve. Jessie was four-months old. Although this was way before anyone even had car seats for infants, I was aware that the music would be too loud for her little ears, so I always managed to find a quiet spot where I could still hear and see. The Keystone was small, so it was trickier, but I found a backroom with a window that looked onto the stage. I could see well, and it was loud enough to hear. When the band took their break, I was sitting on a bench in that room nursing Jessie when Nicky Hopkins walked in and sat down. He explained that the crowd in the Green Room was sometimes too much for him during a gig. We chatted for a while, then he asked if he could hold my baby. He hung out and cooed to her a bit then left to go back onstage. He was a very cool guy.
Shows were mellower out west. There were shows everywhere and many free shows in and around Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t a long drive at all from our home in Santa Cruz up the coast to San Francisco. We still didn’t own a car, but our good friend did, and she loved the company. The deal always was that Amber would drive one way, and Paul would drive back. I was always either pregnant or holding a baby, since there were no car seats, yet and we were all very young. I didn’t mind not driving and still love having a chauffeur. That way, I get to enjoy the ride in a different way, though I really love driving when I’m alone.
On March 23rd, 1975, Bill Graham organized a fundraising concert to benefit the San Francisco schools. They had been forced to cut their budget and were doing away with all extra-curricular activities. This meant sports, and all of the arts, including music. The S.N.A.C.K. Benefit Concert, or S.N.A.C.K. Sunday, was an all-day musical and cultural extravaganza. Tickets were $5 at Kezar Stadium. It was the first large benefit concert in history and led the way for future ones. It raised almost $300,000, mostly in ticket sales, enough to cover the costs for one year. You can do the math if you want, I just know there were a lot of people there. The bands were Eddie Palmieri & His Orchestra, Tower of Power, Graham Central Station, Doobie Brothers, Jefferson Starship, Santana, Joan Baez, Grateful Dead with Merl Saunders on organ, Bob Dylan with The Band and Neil Young. Between sets there would be motivational speakers like Willie Mays, Jesse Owens and Marlon Brando and of course the mayor of San Francisco to rev up the crowd. It was an unbelievable concert. Everyone was great, but Santana blew away everyone else. He even came up and jammed with The Dead and whipped them into a frenzy. The parking was horrendous that day. We had to park miles away. Meanwhile, other people parked wherever they wanted and were being ticketed and towed. Pedestrians were everywhere blocking the roads, walking home or to our cars. I’ve been in some ridiculous traffic jams before, but this was the worst! It took hours just to get to the car because you couldn’t get across the street without climbing over someone’s car. But, we were all hippies and most of us were mellow … peace, love and all that. Here's the audio from that day.
Another great show was at Marx Meadows on May 30th, 1975 in Golden Gate Park with Jefferson Starship, Diga Rhythm Band and Sons of Champlin. The Sons of Champlin were a popular, mostly west coast band and were really great but never made it nationally. Stanley Owsley, or Bear as we known, the king of LSD and sound wizard, was running sound for Starship at the time and ended up running the board for The Diga Rhythm Band. The Diga Rhythm Band was an amazing percussion-based psychedelic world music band that consisted of, among others, Mickey Hart who was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead, and Alla Rakha, a world renowned Indian tabla player who specialized in classical Hindustani music and often accompanied Ravi Shankar and appeared on many recordings. The Diga Rhythm Band sadly only played three public gigs, and I'm glad I caught one of them. That day, they were joined onstage by Jerry Garcia on guitar and David Freiberg on bass for an almost 15-minute version of "Fire On The Mountain."
They were awesome. The whole day was awesome but incredibly hot. It had been 94 degrees in a wide-open field with hundreds of hot sweaty hippies.
As always, we’d agreed that Amber would drive there, and Paul would drive home. Paul, not having a car of his own, jumped at the opportunity to be behind the wheel. He was also a great driver. Now, I have always trusted in the universe, or as some people refer to it, “Guardian Angels.” Well, maybe not always, but I did learn that lesson early. When you have that trust, you can be a little riskier. We all had trust, though Paul trusted a little more than anyone else. We took many chances based on the belief that things would always work out in the end. We followed the hippie motto, “Just go with the flow, man … go with the flow.” That day we had all smoked a little, some more than others. There was plenty of variety offered, and other delights as well. None of us really drank much if any now. I think we’d all burnt ourselves out on alcohol previously. I was pregnant as that time and wasn’t drinking at all. We were all exhausted, so Amber fell asleep next to the window in the front seat while I sat in the middle keeping Paul company while he drove. It was a breath-taking ride home down the winding coast along cliffs that sheer off into the Pacific Ocean. Sometimes we’d stop on that route and watch for whales swimming by. This day, however, everybody was beat and just wanted to get home.
I gazed out the side window for a just little while when I realized Paul hadn’t said anything in a little while. I looked up and saw that his eyes were closed with his chin resting on his chest. I couldn’t believe it! He hadn’t seemed sleepy only a few minutes ago. I certainly didn’t want to startle him and have him jerk the wheel and crash or plummet over the cliff to be dashed on the rocks below, but I didn’t know what to do. I gently said his name a few times, trying to keep my voice calm. Then, I noticed that he was actually driving … safely. I thought I’d better wake Amber. It amazes me now that neither of us ever freaked out. We just took it in stride that here was another bizarre experience in our lives. We quickly decided to be ready to grab the wheel if necessary and trust that it would be okay. We were very alert as he drove down Highway 1 in his lane, making all the curves, never speeding, going right down the road for miles, while we sat there willing the car to stay on its path. After many minutes, he rolled his head around, lifting it up to look ahead, stretched his shoulders and said, “Aah, that was a nice little nap. I feel really rested now.” Amber and I sat there incredulous with our mouths gaping open for minutes, then we both lost it. After holding in all the stress of that terrifying experience, it came out all at once. It was a combination of awe, anger and laughter. What an end to that day! Those are the experiences that really cement relationships. I wonder if it's because no one else would believe you but a fellow accomplice?
On September 28th, 1975, we went to a "secret" free show at Lindley Meadows in Golden Gate Park. It was billed as The Garcia Band and Jefferson Starship, but it turned out to be Starship and The Grateful Dead coming out of their break. They were great. There are disagreements about the attendance, but it was somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000 people, turning on and tuning in. Phil Lesh said in his biography that it was the last time the whole band dropped acid for a show. It was a definitely a psychedelic scene that we just heard about through word-of-mouth. Whenever moving to a new scene, Paul always made connections fast and always heard about these shows through the grapevine. The next summer we heard about a bicentennial free show by The Grateful Dead on July 4th, 1976. Thousands of us showed up for that historic show that never happened. Various hippies kept calling Bill Grahams office to ask if it was happening, and they would decline to answer. We took that to mean that they were coming, but they never did. The park was filled with hippies having the biggest party that I have ever attended. Here's an Archive of the Dead's set.
I can’t even remember, let alone name all of the musicians I saw while living out there. There were always people showing up randomly to sit in with the different bands. We also did a lot of jamming ourselves. Our home was always filled with music. I sang all throughout the day, singing to my baby and myself and singing with Paul when he was home. We found many other musicians along the way, jamming at parties or just in small groups, learning new songs and writing our own. Much of my relationship with Paul was built on our shared music and crazy adventures. Rather than running away from home, we were both running toward a new home at breakneck speed. The music grounded and healed us, individually and as a couple.
It’s been incredibly fun and inspiring being in a band again. And not just any band, but a group of people who are tuning into the same channel as me and are open to exploring other channels as well. Music is a very personal thing. Because of that, the relationships within bands are important. I’ve been in bands where some people didn’t get along with certain others. It was just a personality thing. It happens. But I always felt as though the music suffered, at least for me. I play music mostly from my heart. Some musicians play mostly from their heads. We all play well. One might even argue that the musicians who play from their heads are more precise and therefore better players. I would argue that it depends on the listener. Like the musicians who create the music, there are some who listen more with their heads and others who listen more with their hearts. I’ve worked successfully with “head” musicians” because we got along personally and could work out any conflicts.
When I’m in a band, that band becomes another kind of family. All families have issues and disagreements and, all families handle conflict differently. Not all birth families share the same politics, career choices, lifestyles, diets, etc. but they can still get together as a family and appreciate and love each other. It’s the same for bands. You come together for the music from different places. Then, you “make beautiful music together.” An urban dictionary defines “making beautiful music together” as “having a great romantic relationship with each other.” It’s true. I have fallen in love with band members. How could I not, when we share a heart-to-heart connection every time we play together? Music is one of the most moving and bonding things that humans experience. Scientifically, it has been shown that engaging in musical activities releases dopamine and affects our endorphins which leads us to feel good and connect with others. Wow! No wonder I can’t stop. And, I’ve been doing this my whole life.
In the early 80s through early 90s, I was in a band in Albany. It was me, my husband Paul, and whoever else we could find. We named the band General Eclectic because when asked to describe our music one of us said, “Well … generally speaking … we’re pretty eclectic.” Hey, that would be a great name! We had a lot of fun and did some pretty crazy shows back then. It was in an era when bands would create cool flyers to hang up. We loved adding that to our creative resume. We played at least once a month, usually more, making unique flyers for each show. Sometimes our shows had themes. One was “On Beyond Zappa.” We did about 30 songs, one for each letter of the alphabet (by artist – Allman Brothers, Beatles, etc.) then a few originals. There was a prize for whoever could name every song and artist. We had one winner because we chose a lot of very obscure songs that crossed genres. It was such a popular show, we did a second one, “On Beyond Zevon.” That one was a bit more challenging since we couldn’t repeat an artist. We both really loved, and I still do love, a challenge. Below is the poster from one of my personal favorite shows. You will have to guess the theme from the clues on the poster because I’m not ready to put that in print yet. We had hoped to do three of these, but we only pulled off two of the planned three. They were very intense multi-media, and very multi-dimensional events. And, they were a lot of work and a lot of fun.
So here I am in a new band. We don’t really know each other well. They certainly don’t know a lot of my history, except for the little bits I’ve shared so far. And, I don’t know theirs, but I would like to. We’ve all come a long way on very different roads to get here. So far, we all get along well, and everyone seems to be pretty easy-going. I know that I’m not always the easiest musician to work with because I’m picky and also a total space cadet. Generally, I tend to be absentminded, clumsy (because of not paying attention), and I lose things constantly. I might be the most flexible person I know, going whichever way the wind blows. My partner describes me as spontaneous and never really plans on my being home when I say I will. Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind. My music is definitely flexible also. I guess you could also call it spontaneous. I hope my bandmates don’t mind too much. So far so good, and I’ll keep trying stay on track, not that I’ve had a ton of success so far. Meanwhile, that spontaneity is helping us develop that all-important bond that grows each time we get together. I always look forward to band practice. That’s how I know this is working.
Ever since I moved to my current home in Petersburg, NY, I have said that I am living the life I never even dreamed was possible. I won’t go into the sordid details of why that is true, just know that after too many years of struggle, I am still amazed. My family responsibilities have lessened dramatically; although I’m certainly not rich, I am financially solvent; my life is mostly stress-free, other than the usual minor annoyances; I have a loving partner who is as easy going as I am, who shares the same ideals and beliefs, who is sharing a comfortable common lifestyle with me; and my home is peaceful and beautiful, surrounded by nature, the kind of home I’ve always looked for. All of these things have freed me up to pursue those dreams I never let myself have until now. As if all of those things aren’t enough, my home has a professional recording studio on the top floor and an incredible sound engineer to go along with it.
I have been a musician my entire life and working professionally since I was 15. I also started raising a family when I was 22 and struggled economically throughout. I continued doing gigs and writing songs, played with my husband, Paul Cavanaugh, in a rock band and dreamed of being able to release a CD someday. Alas, we never pulled that off. However, I finally did release a CD of mostly original folk songs and tunes in 2009 with my next partner, Dick Kavanaugh. We were Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. That was thrilling and satisfied that goal. I started focusing more on my songwriting after that, booking singer/songwriter gigs, going to more workshops, etc. Around that same time, I started writing a blog and a series of memoirs. For years, people told me that I should write a book about my adventurous life but the idea of writing a whole book felt too overwhelming, so I started writing short memoir pieces. Then, after a music class one day, a dad from one of my classes asked if he could trade recording time for his daughter’s classes. Of course, I said yes and decided to try to do a solo CD.
During this process, I met Joel Patterson. He really is the “finest man.” We hit it off immediately and, after months of commuting back and forth between Petersburg and Albany, we realized how silly it was to keep two homes. So, he invited me to move in. I had been a member of a memoir group that met monthly and, one time, shared a song I’d written that went along with the memoir for that month. They knew that I was working on this CD and suddenly suggested an album concept of spoken word memoirs for each song. I mentioned it to Joel, who recorded all of the memoirs, the last three songs and mastered everything. Now, including an archival CD of General Eclectic, the rock band with Paul Cavanaugh, I have three CD releases of three very different styles of music.
So back to today … I have a new single. Dandelion Wine came into the studio last night to record “Finest Man.” I love this band! We work well together, and everyone brings something different to the mix. We’re all flexible and easy-going, and we’ve learned to go with the musical flow when necessary. I love that connection that all of the players get after working together for a while. The communication happens through the music almost without the need for words. These guys have been so accepting of the different genres of music I present and of learning more new songs than they might usually be working on, including my originals. And, I thank them.
When you live a life of hardship, you stop dreaming big. You take on an acceptance of whatever comes your way without expectations. It’s necessary to do that in order to survive intact. That’s why it’s so big when the things you never dreamed about just drop in your lap. In the past year, I have formed a band, gone to China, released an EP of children’s songs, released three music videos and now will be releasing an original single. Wow! Life is good! I am eternally grateful!
Last week, I thought I was going to write about being a more prolific writer in the winter, but a different post insisted on being written. Today, I have a snow day, the perfect time to write about winter writing.
As I was driving home from work after dark recently, watching the moon reflecting on the Hudson River and slowly rising over the Taconic Mountains, I recognized how many of my songs have those images in them. In a songwriting group I was in, some of my fellow songwriters commented on the recurring imagery in my songs, mostly involving nature and often the night sky. Although, the world is just as beautiful during the other three seasons, the beauty in winter is very dramatic from the spectacular night sky behind the bare tree branches to the stark grayscale colors and icy reflections. Although, I was born at the end of the summer, I seem to be drawn to that cold beauty. I also have a special fondness for the constellation Orion, and he comes around in the winter, appearing in many of my songs as well.
I’m not sure that’s the whole story, though. In the spring, summer and fall, I am busy with gardening, hiking, music festivals, travel and more. There’s not as much time for reflecting on life or nature. In the winter, I tend to hibernate more, reorganizing my physical space and my thoughts. I do love snowshoeing, but I can only do so much of that. There’s only indoor gardening to think about, so I have lots of time for the things I’ve neglected during the warmer weather. I tend to do more reading in the winter as well. I love curling up by the woodstove reading a good book. In addition, this home is the paradise I’ve been looking for my whole life. Why would I want to leave its warmth and comfort and venture out in the cold weather?
Every year though, I tell myself that I’m going to write songs for the other seasons and then never get around to it. I tried once to write a summer song and was told by that same group of songwriters that the music didn’t fit the lyrics. It was too somber for summertime. They were right, and it turned into a wonderful winter song, “It’s Gonna Be Cold Outside.” A few people have suggested that I put out a CD of songs for all seasons. That would be great if I had songs for every season, but it doesn’t look like that will happen any time soon, and that’s okay with me. I am a big believer in giving myself assignments for my writing, but maybe not this topic just yet. It’s winter right now, and once again I’m feeling inspired by the cold and barrenness. So … maybe someday. But for now, I’ll enjoy my hibernation and write what comes. All of my upcoming shows will have some winter themed songs, some original and some covers. I hope you can come out and enjoy hearing them as much as I enjoy writing them and then playing them.
I’ve been struck by how often the subject of birds has come up lately. My band, Dandelion Wine, has added “Bird Song” to our song list. I’ve always loved this Grateful Dead song and am enjoying singing it with a full band. Back in late September, we played at a benefit for the local bird sanctuary, The Berkshire Bird Paradise. The next week, I wrote a blog post about noticing that birds seem to be my spirit animal. Not long after that, knowing nothing about my blog post, the bass player in the band referred to me as “the bird lady of Petersburgh.” After our last gig at Foodstock 6, at The Rustic Barn Pub, we got a request for the song, “White Bird,” another song that I love but may not have thought of on my own. Now that there’s snow on the ground up here in the mountains, we’re feeding the birds again. I enjoy watching them so much! I’m not sure why this is important, or if it even is at all, but it’s always interesting to me when I notice synchronicity at work.
And speaking of synchronicity, I’ve also been reflecting on my band, how it came about and the band members. For years, I’ve been wanting another band and had been looking around hoping for a word-of-mouth kind of thing. One evening I went to a local Open Mic and met Shows Leary. I asked if he would be interested in being in a band, to which he replied yes. Meanwhile, a friend approached me offering himself and his partner to join a band as a “musicians for hire.” I decided to take them up on their offer, and the first incarnation of Dandelion Wine was born. Unfortunately, that didn’t last, but it did lead to other members joining. Now, Dandelion Wine consists of Shows Leary on bass, Wayne Chills on electric guitar and Tommy Love on drums. I couldn’t make these names up if I tried. How cool is that? I haven’t worked with a band since the early 90s and am having to remember how to lead. This group of musicians is wonderful to work with. They are flexible, love to jam and are patient with my learning curve. We are very pleased to have gotten a video from the Foodstock 6 gig and are looking forward to the next gig at The Rustic Barn Pub on December 21st.
I hope you enjoy the video and also hope it encourages you to come out to this next show.
Wow! What a week it's been. On Friday, I did Music Together in Troy, NY, then Saturday, I was at a street festival in Albany, NY. On Sunday, I went back to Albany and played a two-hour gig of my originals and covers aimed at adults. Monday, I went to Schenectady, NY to play for the younger set for the summer reading program at a public library, Wednesday was another Music Together class and today, I'll be at an assisted living center playing 30s, 40s and 50s music for elders. In just a week I've done such a variety of music on 6 out of 7 days. I feel envigorated and ready for more weeks like this. I have always loved variety and have a difficult time choosing any favorites.
In the 1980s and part of the 90s, I was in a band called "General Eclectic". We named ourselves that because we played such a wide variety of music and attracted as wide a variety of people to our shows. We couldn't really catagorize ourselves. We played everything from Dolly Parton to Frank Zappa. Of course, we didn't appeal to everyone. Some folks wanted a band that played one type of music - a blues band or a Dead cover band, classic rock or country, but we did it all because we loved it all. Personally, I get bored going to hear a band where everything sounds the same. That's okay for background music, but I'm a very active listener. I like to get involved in the music. At General Eclectic shows, I loved looking out at the audience and seeing a table of hippies over here and metal heads over there, a table of country western fans up front and blues or jazz fans in the back. And ... everyone mingled. My granddaughter is in town and commented on how accepted I was by people of all ages at my recent evening show. That's always been one of my goals.
However, my biggest goal has always been to make my living making music. It took me a while to figure that out. I worked a lot of jobs to make money, some of them were better than others, and some of them taught me a lot. Most of them were just money-makers and didn't make me feel fulfilled. I worked as a school bus driver, a school crossing guard, a daycare worker, a home daycare provider, a piano teacher, a school teacher, a bookkeeper in a bank, a receptionist at a big corporation, a receptionist at an electronic repair shop, an electrician's helper, a house painter, a home and office organizer and a cleaner. I did piece work for a company making and selling macrame plant hangers and worked selling my own jewelry and botanicals. Finally, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and give it all up. I had started reading "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron and realized that I had to just make a move or I would never achieve my original goal, so I gave 2 months notice and quit my job. I had no idea what I would do, but I had to try. As soon as I gave notice, things came my way. This time my work included music lessons but also turned into performances for adults and children, gigs as an artist educator in schools, libraries and museums, transcribing and transposing music, editing music books and finally becoming a Music Together teacher. My dream was finally realized.
It took me a lifetime to get here, but I'm hear and couldn't be happier. Now, the best advice I have for young people is, do what you love. You may have to create your work or look a little harder to find it, but it's not worth slogging through each day doing something you hate. With a little faith and a lot of hard work, you can find your way. Ironically, as I was thinking about this blog post yesterday and how I would approach this topic, I took a break to look at the latest issue of AARP magazine. The personality on the cover this time is Willie Nelson, a musician that I have always respected very much. At the end of the article, the interviewer asked him what was the secret to a good life? He answered, "Do what you love." My thoughts exactly, Willie. I couldn't agree more.
Wise words from an amazing man, a percussionist with the Grateful Dead who travels around the world collecting indigenous music. I was lucky enough to meet Mickey Hart very briefly once. This quote is so meaningful to me. I have always tried to fill my life with sound - not necessarily music, but always some kind of sound, whether it's the sound of the wind in the maple tree outside my window as I write this post, or the sound of the birds. The last few days and nights, I've been aware of the beautiful sounds that the rain makes. When my daughter was 5 years old, we lived in Tillamook County on the coast of Oregon in a mobile home for a while. She liked to put various pots and pans or plastic bowls upside down in the yard outside her bedroom window so that she could listen to the symphony of sounds that the rain made. She even drew a picture of it with a caption about liking the rain because it makes music that, sadly, has been lost along the way. But, I can still see it in my mind, and I think of it everytime I listen to the rain.
Sound is so important. I often have insomnia. It's so frustrating to lay in bed, knowing that I have to wake early, wishing that I could just fall alsleep, and getting more and more stressed the more I think about it which doesn't help me fall asleep. I sometimes get up and read for a while then try again, but lately I've been remembering a tip that my former partner gave me. He told me to just listen intently to all the sounds. He said that if we focus on the sounds, it takes our minds off of other things and relaxes us. When I can remember to do that, it always works - unless I've had a lte cup of coffee. Then, all bets are off. :-)
Because I'm a songwriter, I often don't have music playing at home. It interferes with the music in my head. Also, I'm a very active listener. I find it difficult at times to hold a conversation when there's music playing. I have to dive into the music fully. The exception to this is music I am very familiar with. For that reason, I have a couple of go-to CDs for when company is over. They are CDs that are so ingrained in my psyche, I don't have to listen intently. I listen to music when I am looking for new songs to cover or learning something new. When I'm learning a new song, I immerse myself in it totally, listening to it over and over for hours at a time over the course of many days. I listen to it until I can hear it in my sleep. Then, when I go to play it, I already know it. It's just a matter of training my fingers. It drives others crazy, but it works for me. Thank goodness for headphones!
In my job, I am always trying to convince people that everyone can sing regardless of the quality of their voice or even whether or not they can sing in key. It's about the act of sharing the music within your family or with your community. It's the same with sound. All sound is music, at least to my ears. I've had friends whose music was "industrial noise". It was creative and innovative. I loved going to their shows and hearing how they turned "noise" what some might think of as cacaphony, into music. It wasn't for everyone, but I admired it. I encourage you to think about that the next time you are feeling bothered by some ambiant noise around you. Maybe you can find the music in it.
Standing with one foot in France and one in Switzerland.
I have always loved traveling and have managed to travel to all but four of the United States. They are Lousiana, Alabama, Alaska and Hawaii. I've also gone to Mexico and Canada. Then, in 2009, I was lucky enough to be given a trip to Germany for a music event. Because my flight and lodging was laready paid for, I was able to help my partner at the time pay the extra it would take for him to come, too. We extended our trip longer than the original portion I was hired for and organized a house concert in Switzerland, driving from Berlin through Bavaria and Western France. It was a dream come true. I'd always dreamed about going overseas but had never made that happen and, because I've always been so low-income, I didn't see any possibility of it happening in the future. Germany would not have been my first choice, but I was very impressed and loved the whole experience. I really fell in love with the country and the people.
It was a total fluke that I got involved with this group and, at the time when the first performances happened in the Woodstock/New Paltz area, I had no idea I would eventually end up in Europe for 12 days. I recently found my passport and wondered if I should renew it, since it expires in November of this year. Then, I got an intriguing message through a business related social media group. Now, before I tell you about the message, let me tell you what I think about social media.
Like many of you, I've had a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I've been sucked into it with silly games, memes and (omg) the ads. However, I've also found long lost friends and family, rekindled friendships and basically stayed closer to many people than I would otherwise have been able to do. I also realized early on that it was going to be the cutting edge of promotion. I can easily say that the majority of people who come out to my shows come through Facebook. The numbers of people who have watched my videos because they found them through Facebook is astounding. My "In Winter" video views just keep on climbing, and I know many of them have come from social media.
Because I've had so much success with Facebook, I joined other sites, Linked-In, Alignable and more. Some are more social and some are purely business sites. Either way, I keep getting contacted by people looking for what I do and have found me online. And recently, I got the very intriguing message I referenced earlier. It read "... have you ever performed outside of the US?" I replied that I had performed in Germany and Switzerland. I was then asked if I'd ever performed in China and could this woman come visit one of my classes? One thing led to another. She has now visited two very different classes and has asked if I will come to China for two weeks to perform at some daycare centers that she runs with her partners. My answer was easy. This is another unimaginable dream come true. I guess I'd better renew that passport, which has been sitting on my desk insisting that I notice it.
People often ask how I can have such a positive outlook all the time. It's because good things happen to me when I least expect them. I believe that if I think positively, positive things will come my way. I may not know what they're going to be, and there are always bad things in the mix, but I've been pleasantly surprised more times than I can count. Like with the trip to Germany, I never even considered the possibility of going to China, but it looks like I'll be going next spring. And ... how cool is that?
My parents often told me that I sang before I spoke. Apparently, I sang all of my words for quite a while. This is not surprising at all, if you know my upbringing. My dad came from a musical family. One of his uncles played in vaudeville, and I am lucky enough to own his tenor banjo. Another of his uncles played piano and organ in silent movie houses. My grandmother had a baby grand piano in her house and played mostly classical music on it. My brother, cousins and I loved playing underneath that piano. I especially loved it when someone was playing. Then, I was surrounded by its beautiful sound. There was always singing happening at my grandparents' house and also in ours. I don't remember ever not hearing music around the house. My dad was always singing, songs from his childhood, family favorites and more contemporary songs. By the time I was three, I was singing rounds and harmonies and soon moved to singing descants, which are counter melodies. Even my mother sang to me, out of key and making up her own melodies and lyrics, but I didn't mind. I loved it when she sang me lullabies at night.
In addition to my own family, my mother's best friend's family were also musical. They were from Scotland and sang Scottish ballads, classical and church music. They often babysat for me when I was young. "Aunt Meg" would stand me on their dining room table and have me sing to her. And, they taught me their favorite songs, which I sang with a Scottish brogue. It seemed as though everywhere I went I was surrounded by song. It was so much a part of my early life, it quickly became an integral part of my essence.
Singing got me through my hellish high school and early adulthood experiences. It was my shelter from all storms. It got me through the abuse in my family. When I sat at the piano and sang, everyone left me alone. My mom used to say that she could tell what kind of a day I'd had at school by listening to the music I played when I got home. And she could tell when it was okay to engage me by the way the music changed as I played. Music has always saved me.
I got my first paying gig when I was 16. I had been studying classical voice and was soon getting paid to do weddings and church gigs. When I met my husband in 1974, after having been gigging for quite a few years, he asked me not to sing with him because "it threw him off." I hadn't yet learned how to turn off the classical tone. His sister soon set him straight, and we became a duo. He was a great guitar player and knew a lot of songs. He also had a great stage presence, which I was lacking at that time. We had a variety of band members over the years on both the east and west coasts. We wrote songs together and sang beautiful harmonies together. But, the relationship was difficult and we eventually split up, after 20 years of marriage.
When I knew I was moving out, I stood out on my back porch and said out loud, to no one in particular, "I need a guitar. I'm getting $200 on Monday and need it to come with a case. Oh, a tuner would be nice, too." This was a Friday afternoon. I knew that if I was going to continue to perform, I would need to learn to play an instrument. I had toyed around on guitar in high school and played classical piano, but now I needed to be able to back up my main instrument - my voice. That Monday evening, our neighbor came over carrying his cousin's guitar that was for sale. He thought that since we were musicians, we might know someone who was interested. It was $200 and came with a case and a tuner. As soon as I moved out, I booked a gig and called on my friends to help out. I played some songs alone and some with friends and got through the whole night.
I've never considered myself an instrumentalist, though now I play guitar, mandolin, banjo, piano and mountain dulcimer. I'm a singer who plays a few other instruments. I've always been a singer and can't imagine not singing. I have songs for every subject and used to drive my kids crazy by singing at the mention of something completely random that reminded me of a song. I'm sure I will do that until the end of my life. When my mother had a massive stroke, and my brother and I were directed to keep her as calm and still as possible while they administered a certain medicine for over an hour, my first instinct was to start singing to her, and it worked. When she had no way to communicate because of aphasia and could no longer recognize letters or even know what they were, leaving out the possibility of pointing to letters as a means of communication, I sang all of my conversations to her. It was like being in an opera. I'd learned about this form of music therapy that rewires the brain to access language from the music side, and to a small degree, it worked. Unfortunately, the damage to her brain was so extensive, there was not a lot that could be done.
When I am sad or stressed, angry or worried, I turn to singing. Listening to music or playing an instrument doesn't have the same effect on me that singing does. Singing is in me, it is part of my core, and I don't know what I would do without it. I sang at my children's births, and I hope, when the time comes I will be singing myself into my own death. At the very least, I hope someone will sing to me or with me at the end.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.