It's funny how small the world can get

It's funny that I had to play a gig at The Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham UK in order to meet Jody Stephens, Jody from Big Star,

Jody who currently is touring with a duo called Those Pretty Wrongs,

Jody who spends a good deal of time in the Carrboro area working with musicians that I have worked with, musicians that I have admired, musicians that I have cheered on - even from afar.

We raved and reminisced about the music scene back home.  It's rare that I feel any sort of homesickness, per-se, but the Triangle really is a hub of incredible musical talent. Bringing the North Carolina music scene to life, through conversation with Jody, reminded me of my incredibly music rich childhood, and how lucky I am to have grown up around so many musicians.  I am ever grateful for my musical roots.

Meanwhile, my mother was trying to catch my attention by holding up a flyer, waving it around, and grinning: "Maybe you could open for Jonathan Byrd!" She exclaimed.  I read the flyer that she was waving vigorously 'Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys'

My heart soared, what a thought!

She took a picture of Isaac, Robert and me holding the flyer and she told us to look surprised. "I'll tag him in it on Facebook!" She said.

She took a picture of Isaac, Robert and me holding the flyer and she told us to look surprised. "I'll tag him in it on Facebook!" She said.

Jonathan Byrd was of the first artists I introduced Robert to, I think I played him the video for 'Waitress' at a hostel in Galway back when we first met. And I insisted we drive up from South Carolina last September (when Robert came to travel with me in the US) so that we could catch at least half of Jonathan Byrd's sets at the North Carolina State Fair - delighting in Johnny Waken's animated guitar solo where, among other things, he rolled around joyfully in the grass!

I introduced Isaac to Jonathan Byrd's music for the first time ON THE WAY TO OUR GIG AT THE KITCHEN GARDEN CAFE!!! He asked "is that clarinet or cello?" on one of the tracks, and then he answered himself, "Ooo, ooo, that is cello!"

Jonathan's Music is top up there when people ask who my influences are, or when they ask who my favorite songwriters are.  I often claim that if it hadn't been for Jonathan's stories, Paul's mournful cello, and Johnny's wailing guitar - not to mention countless other musicians who recorded with Jonathan Byrd - I wouldn't have gotten through college. Jonathan's songs inspire me, they reminded me of where I come from, they reminded me of where I could be going, they guided me through.

I would like to take a moment to talk about Paul Ford specifically, he was a lot more than just a Pickup Cowboy, he was an inspirational member of the music community in North Carolina.  Although he is gone, I know I am not alone in carrying him with me through my life.  I have so many fond memories of him, musically and otherwise.

I was telling my mother in Dartmouth how much I have realized that I am where I am in part because of Paul. I was trying to explain to her that it wasn't just the music.  Paul encouraged me in my song writing, he showed me, by example, what collaboration can be, but it wasn't just the music.  Paul insisted that I could do anything, no, he REMINDED me, time and again, that I ALREADY KNOW that I can do anything.  I just have to keep doing it.

In trying to put this into words for my mother, through tears at this point, on a ferry in Dartmouth, I trailed off "he was...he was consistently...he was consistently..." My voice faded but my mother picked up where I left off, offering; "...decent!"

I laughed through my tears holding her. "Yes," I said "he was consistently decent." "It seems like you've found some of those yourself" my mother said, referring to my band mates, "I enjoyed hearing you all on the radio, because each of you had something good to say about the other." "It continues to amaze me." I said. I've certainly been through a lot with past bands, I have my ghosts (perhaps to be revealed at some other time) and it's people like Paul who have helped ground me along the way, reminding me to stay true to myself, and to push myself to be my best self, not just my best musician, but my best self. I find collaboration can be tricky, it can be as powerful as shattering (and piecing back together) your heart - or as Robert says: "honey and fire", or as I scribbled in a notebook years ago "honey and the bees to sting" (and if I told any of these analogies to Isaac, he'd probably say, very thoughtfully, "huh, yeah, I can see that.") The key is finding other people who are willing to approach the collaboration with care and intention, leaving room for the muses to flow freely, and lifting each other up along the way.

So with the encouragement of my mother, my bandmates, and the two guys working at The Kitchen Garden Cafe, I sat down with knots in my stomach to write an email.

What was the worst that could happen?  Scenarios spun through my mind.

And the best? More scenarios tangled themselves with the first.

And then Paul Ford reminded me that I have what it takes. I just have to do it.

The next day I got a response.

"In short, yes." The email said.

And my heart soared again!

I am honored to announce that on the 13th of June, at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham UK, Robert, Isaac, and yours truly will get to open for Jonathan Byrd and the Pickup Cowboys!  If you come out to the show (get tickets here) you'll hear the roots of where I come from, the sweet sounds of where I am now, and perhaps, just a thread, of where we're going.

I look forward to seeing you soon,


A Dartmouth Thread - Dart Music Festival 2017

The steam train gave a scream that drifted across the estuary as the old VW camper came roaring down the steep hill into dartmouth town and screeched to a halt outside the crowded pub. "Here we are," chortled Bernie from the drivers seat, "The Seale arms.” Leaving the camper running outside Bernie weaved through the crowd to meet Alicia’s parents by the pool table - they had come all the way from North Carolina, in their waterproofs no less, and Bernie welcomed them to sunny old England! "We're on in 5" I said to Alicia and Isaac as the Alfi Romeo band burst into a ripping rendition of Johnny B Goode.

Dartmouth Festival was in full swing, music on every corner and bursting from pub doors, the main stage rang out above the hubbub, and the market and streets were abuzz with tourists and locals alike. Due to a gig in Rugby, we had missed the friday night but we were determined to make up for it by squeezing in five shows while we were in town. At gig number two the rain was waiting for us. We had no sooner ducked into The Floating Bridge when the skies opened up and a deluge of heavy raindrops flew at the window panes. People came seeking shelter, and stayed for the music (and the best fish and chips in the world, they say). Sunday was a scorcher, and between gigs Isaac and I set up busking by the promenade, we met a woman named Ali who may have us down by the coast again for a house concert later in the year, and we ran into Phil Meek from Radio Caroline! It is amazing the connections we have made while busking! You never know who you’ll come across!

Gig number three was behind The Cherub, we helped Alfi set up an outdoor stage, dragging heavy potted plants to the side of the courtyard and set up amps. Alicia hopped up before our set to join Alfie and the guys for a rocking rendition of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door'. The last chorus had hardly faded when the Town Crier got up in full costume and introduced us, bell and all, “Hear ye hear ye! Now you’re in for something different!" That evening he even came across the river to Kingswear for our penultimate show at The Ship Inn, introducing us again with his booming voice, this time it seemed louder than ever, in the cosy pub.

Monday, post-fest, Alfi took us up river to Dittisham. Inside the FBI pub, (if you ever find yourself in Dittisham, it’s the bright pink place by the docks. Well worth a visit) we got to jam by the fireplace, I played slide guitar with a shot glass while Alfi took lead guitar. Alicia’s parents had joined us for the boat trip, they even sang along to our sea shanties on the boat, joining in on the chorus “Leave her Johnny, leave her” (much to the surprise and delight of the two strangers who happened to be on the ferry with us. “What luck! We get a concert of our own!” When we had finished our last refrain of 'Johnny, leave her' the woman, Sara, asked about the meaning of the song. I explained that it is about leaving a ship/leaving work, knowing it will be hard to walk away, but knowing also that it is time to go. Sara told us about her very recent retirement and she was visibly moved by the song. I pinky promised her that we would play it again if she and her husband managed to come to our gig that night and they did!


To close out the evening, and indeed the long weekend, Alfi joined us at The Dolphin, we sang old blues and let the music carry us away.

photos by Sarah Howe

photos by Sarah Howe

I guess with anything the leaving can be bitter sweet, it might just be the end of a wonderful weekend, or the end of a career, or even the end of an era, the end of an old habit, the end of the line…letting something come full circle.
The Reverend joined in on our final song, an emotional rendition of 'Knocking on Heavens Door’.