Hey friends, it's been a while! I'm writing you now from the public library in Okemah, Oklahoma, the birthplace of Woody Guthrie. They've got air-conditioning (it's blazing outside), wireless internet, and shelves full of information, all free for the public. It's a fittingly socialist, humanist oasis in a town that's only recently coming around to embrace its most famous son, an unrepentant communist and rabble-rouser to his dying day.
Woody's lately looming ever larger in my mind, and the minds of many of my fellow troubadouring comrades, and I figured it would be only right to make this pilgrimage while I'm down this way. I've been hanging out in Tulsa for the last nine days, having my mind blow nightly by the calibre of musicianship in that small, somewhat forgotten but now rapidly gentrifying oil-town, and by the warmth and generosity with which I've been received. I'd only visited once before, stopping in for one night to play an open mic, but I knew there was something special about Tulsa. In the Oklahoma Room at Folk Alliance in February, I loved the music and the vibe so much that I drunkenly declared I was moving to Tulsa! And though it was just for nine days, it really found a place in my heart. I cycled pretty much everywhere, digging the relics along Route 66, the decrepit warehouses, and the dark streets lined with old oil-money mansions.
But most of all, it was the music! There are deep roots of jazz in Tulsa, going back to the 20s, when the neighbourhood of Greenwood (otherwise known as "Black Wall Street") was one of the most thriving black communities in the States. Later on, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys incorporated elements of black music and white country into a new style called Western Swing that they played for dances at Cain's Ballroom (which is still open in Tulsa) and across America over the radio waves. Leon Russell was from Tulsa, JJ Cale too. And the funky Tulsa sound they crafted is alive and well today. Chris Blevins, Paul Benjaman, Wink Burcham, Jacob Tovar, Seth Lee Jones, Chris Lee Becker, Ryan Browning, Cody Clinton, and many more knocked my socks off. And in the Woody Guthrie Center I got to see one of Woody's guitars, his old address book (with Leadbelly and the Lomaxes on the same page!), the original handwritten lyrics of "This Land is Your Land", some of the many pieces he wrote castigating his racist landlord (and #45's father) Fred Trump, and most touchingly, letters he'd written from the hospital when he was dying of Huntington's disease. He could barely write by then, but he still mustered the unbreakable optimism and love that had carried him through his hard fifty-five years. And there's a lesson in that for someone who's had it as easy as I have.
From here I'm turning my wheels northward, bound for that dearest of family reunions, my home festival, the North Country Fair. Here's the dates on the horizon:
Fri June 16 - Kansas City, MO - Acoustic Alcove with Karen Anne on bass
Sat June 17 - Minneapolis, MN - Opening for Gabe Barnett at The Warming House
Thu-Sun June 22-25 - Driftpile, AB - North Country Fair
Wed June 28 - Edmonton, AB - 10th Annual North Country Fair Afterbender at the Needle
Wed July 5 - Grand Rapids, MI - Local Spins, opening for Mark Lavengood Bluegrass Bonanza
Thu July 6 - Harbor Springs, MI - Harbor Springs Street Musique
Fri-Sun July 7-9 - Bliss, MI - Blissfest
Tue July 11 - Traverse City, MI - Satellite Sparkle with May Erlewine
Wed July 12 - Kalamazoo, MI - Arcadia Ales
Thu July 13 - Lansing, MI - Concerts in the Courtyard
Fri-Sun July 14-16 - Hinton, AB - Wild Mountain Music Festival with the Second Chances
As always, all the details for these shows, and shows further in the future, are on my news page.
Last I wrote you, friends, I was at the beginning of a prairie tour with Bram and Shari, almost two months ago now. We had a great run through the mountains and across the plains, with small but enthusiastic crowds most everywhere. We ended in Winnipeg, where I stayed on for a couple more days in an Airbnb, cycling around and loving on that town.
From there I headed Stateside to play and visit my dear friends in Viroqua, Wisconsin, and then to Ohio for a show at Plain Folk Cafe in Pleasant Plain, the Central Ohio Folk Festival, and a nice hang with Eric Nassau and friends in Columbus. I was off the clock after that, an exciting feeling for someone who's been working way too hard for way too long. Funny enough, I ended up doing pretty much the same stuff I'd do if I were working, I just wasn't getting paid for it. I spent four days in Nashville, singing at open mics, digging the bands at Roberts Western World (my favourite honky-tonk on Broadway), visiting friends, and being altogether too friendly with the drinks.
I decided to split town early to get my head screwed back on straight, and made my way up into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I don't know what took me so long. I don't know how I forgot how deeply healing and necessary time alone in nature is. I love cities, but they do my head in after a while. On my second day I rode the Cades Cove Loop, a famous cycling route through a gorgeous valley, and happened to stop for a rest alongside a black bear who was foraging in the woods. From there I drove over the Appalachians and into North Carolina, marvelling at the clear mountain streams, the flowering trees, and the smell of springtime in the air.
I hung around Asheville a couple days, digging the local music scene and the freaky cast of characters, before heading up to the beautiful mountain village of Montreat for the Southeast Regional Folk Alliance conference. It's the charmingest of all the conferences I've been to, set in a lakeside hotel with creeks and waterfalls running around it, with only a couple hundred attendees, and plenty of room in the schedule. I met some amazing artists and made some great connections, and I fully expect to be back in the South before long.
While I was in North Carolina, the State that passed, and then had to partially rescind their odious anti-trans "bathroom bill", I got the welcome news that Chelsea Manning (one of the American heroes I pay tribute to in my version of "Walk That Lonesome Valley") had been released from prison. I had actually suspected that #45 might pull some kinda dirty trick to stop her from going free, but he was undoubtedly too distracted by his own megalomaniacal Twitter tirades to notice.
I headed further south from there, and swung by my Grandma's place in Alabama for a visit with her and my mom and uncle, who happened to be down there then. I also got a little reminder of that other side of the South, the Trump-voting side, which Asheville and SERFA were islands apart from. And though I'm certain those folks have been played for fools by a billionaire who could care less about them, my sympathy deepened all the same.
I stopped in New Orleans for one night en route to Texas, and rode my bicycle around, digging the architecture and the foreign feeling of that city, which was an outpost of France and then Spain for almost a hundred years before it became part of the United States. I dug the music in the clubs, and even moreso in the streets. And most of all I dug the folks sitting out on their porches, wiling away the evening, shooting the breeze.
From there I headed to Texas for my second visit to the Kerrville Folk Festival, an 18 day-long gathering of songwriters and lovers of song on a ranch in the Hill Country. There's not much in the way of shows on the stage, and some folks don't even go to see them; the real action's in the camps, some of which have been there for over forty years, with folks sharing songs. My pals Jonathan Byrd, Corin Raymond, and Johnny Waken were there to play the main stage, and my friends Heather Styka, Noosa aka Winona Wilde, and Martin Kerr were there to compete in the New Folk songwriting contest, which Noosa won! I hung around for nine days, feeling incredibly welcomed and inspired, and having it reiterated to me, again and again, as it has been continually through this last month of vacation, that I already have everything I need. It's just a matter of carrying those gifts with the respect and gratitude they deserve.
I've gotta leave it here, friends. I'm finishing this from the roadside on my way into Kansas City for sound check, after a night hanging out with my old Taiwan mate Rock Starkey and his Okie old man, sipping moonshine on the porch while he told war stories. And though he said anyone who wouldn't fight for their country was a no-good communist, he sure loved it when I sang him a Woody Guthrie song.
Love ya, friends. Keep shining,