MONTANA // UTAH // N. CAROLINA // BEARGRASS // KIMBALL
There were some years in the middle, eight or nine of them, when I didn't collect e-mail addresses at shows. It was a pain in the ass, one more thing to carry, and anyway the proliferation of online platforms made it start to seem quaint. Now I wish I had carried on doing what we all did in the prior century and asked for everyone's physical mailing address all these years, so I could just send a postcard when I was coming to town. If this letter reaches thousands of people, a quarter of them will ever see it, and some smaller percentage click through. The only way to reach people directly is to engage in things that grown people ought to find distasteful, while encouraging the streaming of your work on platforms that are a few decimal places away from outright theft. I could start an essay right here, but here's a draft of a poem instead.
Ragged Anthem (For Chris Dombrowski)
Carrying your poems loose
in the open back of a tube amplifier,
the torn leather handle replaced
with a length of cheap brown
extension cord tied off in a half hitch,
I process the cattle-chute of Denver
airport. Smoked out, beat,
rolling an unsure living back
and forth under my tongue like a stone
that does not slake but merely bides thirst,
I move through the sunlit canyons
of hustle and desire.
We drove all day from Cortez,
easy as a needle piercing folded cloth,
through high desert and mountains until,
approaching the front range as though
from behind a stage curtain, we watched
a storm blow down from the peaks
to conjure a line of dust devils
thirty miles long.
In my pocket I felt for a turquoise
turtle necklace I bought from
a Navajo woman in the lobby
of the Comfort Inn, a long-life charm
for my daughter. Next to this woman
a man slowly tooled a piece under a lamp
as he watched me eye the cases then
said, composing his hands, 'You're an artist.'
It was not a question.
The night before, blind
in the footlights of an old theater
I felt my heart strain and wobble
with booze and nicotine as I sang -
a feeling not unlike prayer -
everything I had, trying to make a pinhole
of light in black confusion in case
I might just die, the only way anyone
ever dies. Now, I ease down into the
blue leather of a first class upgrade,
fruit of my commerce with death,
and read the first one.
I've been home from the road for a little while, getting ready to head out west for the rest of the month. I picked up a copy of A.B. Guthrie's book The Big Sky in Flagstaff on the last run, a book which is good in a particular way if not others. I liked it though. Now I'm reading Jaron Lanier's last book, Who Owns the Future?, which together with his earlier book, You Are Not a Gadget, delivers the most informed, coherent, plain spoken critique of the digital economy I've seen. I have a magic job, and I'd like everyone to have a shot at being rewarded for the value they create in the world. There's no reason that can't happen, but it requires that we change the way that networks are organized and value is identified. It's all free music and cheap mortgages up front, but after a while you get a cultural dust bowl and a man-child with a room temperature IQ leading what we nostalgically refer to as the free world. Just lie back and close your eyes, listen to the war on the radio.
MONTANA - We'll spend the second half of July in Montana to play the Bob Marshall Music Festival up in Seeley Lake (7/14) and Red Ants Pants Festival up in White Sulphur (7/29). Great festivals in beautiful country both, and we'll play the Bob Marshall full band with Bo Ramsey holding down first chair electric guitar and Moses on bass, then Red Ants with and Heywood on steel and electric. This is what is commonly called an embarrassment of riches.
UTAH- On 12 August we'll be in Park City, Utah for the Big Stars and Bright Nights Series at Deer Valley Resort on a triple bill with Parsonsfield and Lanie Jones and the Spirits, where we will be in charge of feeling old. This looks like a swank outdoor amphitheater, and I'll bet it's going to be nice to play there. I've always longed to be famous in Utah, and this ought to finally get the ball rolling.
SALMON ARM - I probably would have taken this festival based on the name alone. August 18th we'll play the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival in Salmon Arm, BC (8/18), on a bill that includes Frazey Ford, Stephen Fearing, and Ricky Skaggs. If anybody who lives up there has the local rivers dialed and wouldn't mind getting us on the water, go ahead and drop a line to the management. Billy will wash your car.
NORTH CAROLINA- Toward the end of August we'll be in North Carolina, on a split bill with our old friend Eilen Jewell, at a new club in Raleigh called the Stags Head on 8/25. Next day we'll roll down to Asheville for the Jam in the Trees Festival (8/26), on a bill that includes Jim Lauderdale, and Peter Rowan. The North Carolina shows will be trio with Eric Heywood - recently elected mayor of Raleigh - on steel and electric guitars.
BEARGRASS - We close out summer in Greenough, Montana at the Beargrass Writer's Retreat, as Songwriter-in-Residence (8/26-29). That's a job title cooked up by my friend the author and poet Chris Dombrowski who founded the retreat, and it describes the responsibility of performing at cocktail hour and fishing on the Big Blackfoot river as much as possible, perhaps giving a talk about collaboration if Billy and I can stop arguing long enough to make an outline. To quote the literature, Beargrass "...Gathers some of the West's most celebrated and promising writers at the storied E Bar L ranch for four days of readings, workshops, craft talks, and generative writing opportunities that connect writers of all experience levels with self and place." Basically if you're a writer, or you simply want to consider the act and process of writing in the company of published writers from a variety of disciplines, in a beautiful place, with good food and a not unreasonable emphasis laid on cocktail hour, Beargrass is for you. Reserve your cabin now. (It's worth mentioning that a few weeks later we'll be on the ground in Montana again, with a show at The Attic in Livingston (9/14) and a benefit for the Watershed Education Network at the Public House in Missoula 9/22. More on those later, as further details emerge).
JENNIFER KIMBALL - I heard Jennifer Kimball play the first time I ever came east. I was familiar with her name from some major-label albums in the nineties, and she struck me with her singularly precise and beautiful singing. A while later it turned out she was old friends with the woman I married, and somewhat later that we were old friends too. I've admired her work for many years now, the way she comes at melody and chord structure in the most sidelong, ferociously smart way, managing to be novel and challenging without feeling academic. Her new album Avocet is worth hearing and buying: heavy songs with a light touch, gorgeous production.
This fall I'll tour North America family-style between October and December, on a full-band split bill with Kris Delmhorst for the release of her fantastic new album THE WILD, which I played on and co-produced, and which features Billy and Mose, plus Alex McCollough from the Cold Satellite band on steel. The clubs are booked, the publicity machinery is in train, and we'll announce the tours sometime this summer.
Keep your chin up folks.