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!
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,