Thursday
Oct102013

COUNTING MY BLESSINGS

The music business provides lots of ups and downs, just like any career. Sometimes I like to ruminate on the negative aspects, but today I'm enjoying lots of great memories from the past 15 years of playing music. Here is a random list of my proudest achievements, gigs and experiences.

1. Playing with Arlo Guthrie at Tonder Festival in Denmark. 2006

2. My live Cecil Sharp Project interview with Jackie Oates and Andy Cutting in the London BBC studios. 2011

3. Watching the yachts from the stage AND playing at the Newport Folk Festival. (the first year Bob Dylan returned to the festival after his performance in 1963). 2002

4. Playing in the Netherlands. I think i've toured in this country ten times. These are the kindest people for whom  I've ever had the pleasure to play. Festivals, theaters, house concerts, rock clubs - you name it, I've played it. My fondest memory is of the lovely woman in Eindhoven who is a sound engineer, a grandmother, has her classes listen to Joni MItchell songs, and gives singer/songwriters with a very scratchy throat a shot of Jaegermeister. 2001-2013

5. Receiving a five-star review for Camilla and earning a Best Albums of the Year award for Camilla from Songlines World Music Magazine. 2012. 

6. Playing the first Austin City Limits music festival in 2002 and getting all of my friends backstage passes!

7. Harmonizing on Walls of Time with Peter Rowan at Thacker Mountain Radio in 1998. He was the first player of his stature who encouraged me to pursue a solo career. Peter was guest #6. 1998

8. Playing two years of Thursday happy hour shows at Stubbs BBQ in Austin, TX with amazing players such as Billy Bright, Bryn Davies and Eamon McLaughlin. Free chips and queso! 2000-2002

9. Hearing my NPR All Things Considered interview, which I thought would be a disaster, actually turn out quite well! I recorded it on my 40th birthday. 2010

10. Every single moment of rehearsing and performing with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion at Atlanta's Fox Theatre.  I had dinner with him afterwards and then he came back to our house and joined the afterparty. We served him coconut cake AND caramel cake. 2010

11. Having Devon cream tea on the terrace with fellow Cecil Sharpians at the Shropshire farmhouse, UK. Such a marvelous musical experience. I'll always be grateful to Alan Surtees and Neil Pearson for inviting me. 2011

11. Having my album Twilight and my song Mistress BOTH be named to the 50 Classic Texas Albums and the Top 50 Songs about Texas in Texas Music Magazine, respectively. 2012

12. Working with engineer and producer Erick Jaskowiak and players Steven Sheehan, Fats Kaplin, Bryan Owings, and Bryn Davies for my album Camilla. All of them came over to Atlanta for my two sold-out CD release shows (except Fats - he was playing with Jack White in Paris). Best recording experience of my life. 2012

12 and 1/2: Playing my first CD release show (Twilight) at The Cactus Cafe in Austin, TX - about 18 months after I worked there! 2001

13. Singing harmony with my daughter on the Decatur Book Festival children's book stage. She was seven and she nailed it. 2011

14. Meeting Marian King's son (from song Camilla) in Denver at a show. He brought me flowers. He was five and with his mother the day of her beating and miscarriage in Camilla, Georgia. 2012

15. Reading an article about my album Golden Apples of the Sun AND a short story based on my songs in the Oxford American. 2009

16. Playing with Kristian Bush (Sugarland) and Ellis Paul at the annual Eddie's Attic Thanksgiving show. Those two fine artists invited me to join after the show had already sold out, and then paid me the same pay they received. Amazing. Eddie's Attic kept me going for ten years in Atlanta/Decatur, mostly through the generosity and encouragement of Eddie Owen, Shalom Aberle and Bob Ephlin. 2007. 

17. Playing the cabin stage at Merlefest. What a rush. 2005

18. Playing Tales of the Islander (about Walter Anderson) to such an appreciative crowd in Ocean Springs, MS, in an auditorium full of his artwork. Thacker Mountain Radio. 2010.

19. Playing with Dar Williams (Europe, mid-2000's) and Mary Chapin Carpenter (Eudora Welty project, late 2000's)

20. Playing to a room full of librarians (my core audience, truly) and winning the Coleen Salley Storytelling Award at the USM Children's Book Festival. 2012

21. Buying a new dress at the thrift store for receiving my award Best New Artist at the Austin Music Awards, TX. 2001

22. Playing the Mountain Literary Heritage Festival in Harrogate TN (borders w Kentucky). I liked the show, but I so loved meeting Kentuckians such as Silas House, Jason Howard and Marianne Worthington, who love their region and their region's music. They invited me into their post-concert music circle and all of them sang along to Lay My Burden Down. 2010

23. Thacker Mountain Radio Christmas show. Writer Larry Brown wrote the short story "Beam me up, Scotty" for our show and read it live. 1998

24. Playing for President George Bush and Chinese President Jiang Zemin at the Crawford ranch, TX. I was picked because I was a band with a female lead and I could lead singalongs. Endless stories about this experience. 2002

25. Joining my first band, Ed Dye and the Sincere Ramblers. Ed took us to Robbie McCoury's rehearsal dinner after-party and I promptly told Del McCoury that I was a rhythm guitarist just like he was. Ed Dye almost had a heart attack that night. Sorry, Ed, and rest in peace. 1997

26. Playing a Robert Earl Keen Texas Uprising Festival with Rich Brotherton.  2001

27. Learning Barbara Allen and Knoxville Girl for William Ferris' Southern Folklore class at the University of Mississippi. With this experience, and my overall experience in Southern Studies, my quests both to write songs about the South and to be a career songwriter and musician began. 1997

28. Receiving my second Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters award for Camilla the same night my husband, Joe Crespino, received his second award for his book Strom Thurmond's America. Mississippi is for lovers. 2013

 

I could go on and on. I have been blessed and I am grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday
Apr122013

Brad Paisley's "The Accidental Racist"

Brad Paisley’s new song, “The Accidental Racist”, begins with a story about a ubiquitous Starbucks barista complaining about the Confederate flag t-shirt Brad Paisley is wearing when he orders a coffee. Brad responds, through the crafted interpretation of a Nashville songwriter team, with the following: “When I put on that t-shirt, the only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan.”

 Just like “Sweet Home Alabama,” Paisley claims that he should be able to celebrate his beloved South-land without being accused (by people like Neil Young, or the Starbucks barista, or LL Cool J) that he is racist. He asks, why is the “red flag on my chest somehow…like the elephant in the corner of the south”? What does that even mean?

 Perhaps Paisley does not understand the conundrum of the Confederate flag because he grew up in West Virginia in a town that was 99% white during the 2000 census. Perhaps he forgot that West Virginia formed as a Unionist state during the Civil War.  Or perhaps he just wishes not to be judged for things he views as ridiculous as wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt. While Paisley views this as common sense, I instead see a clear depiction of a person who feels entitled to something he or she wants at the expense of history and of others.

 I have a different view of the Confederate flag, shaped primarily by when I went to Ole Miss football games as a child in Mississippi in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Before each game began the Ole Miss marching band, “The Pride of the South”, would surround the football field while cheerleaders rolled out a Confederate flag the size of the ENTIRE FOOTBALL FIELD. Everyone in the stands had a Confederate flag, of course, and we all held them up proudly as the band began to play ‘Dixie’, so slow and beautiful. This was the starting point of the game, and the basis for everything.

At the time I didn’t know that Dixie was a blackface minstrel tune romanticizing slavery written in 1859 by Daniel Emmett from northern Ohio. I didn't know that nobody besides white people didn't wave Confederate flags, and I didn't know why. I didn't know why there were no black faces in the football crowd. I didn't even know that the term 'Ole Miss' signified the slave name for the mistress of a  plantation. 

The lyrics of The Accidental Racist and of my experience at the football game are similar. Both seem to be based on a child’s perspective. A child does not understand what propaganda is, though he or she can easily be led to believe it.  A child thinks his or her own selfish wishes matter more than everyone else’s. I’m not sure why The Accidental Racist mentions Reconstruction and then skips over the horrific history of Jim Crow, of lynchings, and of the Civil Rights Movement, or the centrality of the Confederate Flag to the Ku Klux Klan or various other terrorist groups as we are all presumably “still siftin' through the rubble after a hundred-fifty years.” I think the writers of this song are lying. They have sifted through nothing. Instead, they have utterly skipped over those 150 years after the end of slavery and the Civil War because, frankly, it’s easier. It’s much more convenient to live in blissful, willful ignorance than to learn about the South and the nation’s blood-soaked history of racism.

If Brad Paisley knew even one-tenth of what there is to know about how the Confederate flag has been used in this country, and is still being used, he wouldn’t wear the t-shirt.

Wednesday
Feb062013

CHILDREN'S BOOK FAVORITES FROM FRIENDS AND FANS

My children and I love children's books, obviously. And so do my friends and fans on Facebook. So we made a list, together, and it is below. I didn't repeat books, and I didn't put the names of authors or illustrators - not because they aren't important, but because I couldn't type it all. Please check my facebook friend and fan pages for more details, or just email me. This list is random and long - and includes everything from board books to chapter books. Someone (well, actually, dear Catherine Elder) asked me about my favorite children's books. I'll mention just one for now: The Best Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill   Sometimes I still dream about it. 

 

The Velveteen Rabbit

The Little Engine That Could

The Giving Tree

James and the Giant Peach

Where The Wild Things Are

A Wrinkle In Time

Stig of the Dump

Alexander and the Magical Mouse

Die Rosarote Kristal

My Side of the Mountain

Not Now Bernard

Little Blue Truck

The Phantom Tollbooth

Ferdinand the Bull

The Sea Thing Child

The Giver

The Elephant’s Child

Flotsam

Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor

My Father’s Dragon

Big Red Barn

Are You My Mother?

George Shrinks

Ten Apples Up On Top

Frog and Toad

Goodnight Moon

Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel

The Lorax

Charlottes Web

Eloise

Nicolas Bunny

The Little House in the Big Woods

The Secret Garden

The Stinky Cheese Man

The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Grey Bridge

The Littlest Angel

Freddy the Pig

Half Magic

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Snowy Day

And I Mean It, Stanley

The Revolt of the Darumas

The Thirteen Clocks

There’s A Nightmare in my Closet

Christina Katerina and the Box

The Mitten

The BFG

Moo Baaa La La La

Dear Dolphin

Charles Addams Monster Rally

The Sea Around Us

Frances

Jenny Linsky books

Marvin K. Mooney

Whoa Joey

Miss Nelson is Missing

The Tin Forest

There’s a Monster at the End of this Book

Two Bad Ants

The Wretched Stone

The Mysteries of Harris Burdick

Watership Down

The Black Stallion

Where the Sidewalk Ends

The Trumpet of the Swan

Bread and Jam for Frances

Little Bear

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom

The Runaway Bunny

The Boxcar Children

McElligot’s Pool

North to Freedom

Sylvester the Mouse with the Musical Ear

Green Eggs and Ham

Blueberries for Sal

Scaredy Squirrel

If You Give a Moose a Muffin

Keep the Lights Burning Abbie

The Little House (!)

Make Way for Ducklings

A Child’s Garden of Verses

Miss Suzy

Chrysanthemum

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The Quiltmaker’s Gift

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Franklin the Turtle

Meet the Woodland Folk

Brendon Chase

Noggin the Nog

The Blueberry Girl

The Paperbag Princess

Mole and Troll

Miss Rumphius

Each Peach Pear Plum

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

Corduroy

Mouse Paint

The Little Critters

Moomimtroll

The Cockatoucan

A Little Princess

The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Linnea’s Windowsill Garden

Harry the Dirty Dog

Wacky Wednesday

Cattle Drive

The Cow That Wouldn’t Come Down

Lost

A Regular Rolling Noah

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Curious George

Mr. Putter and Tabby

The Metamorphosis

Bridge to Teraibithia

Noisy Nora

In The Night Kitchen

Neverending Story

Alexander and the Wind Up Mouse

Your Monster Momma Loves You So

Fanny’s Dream

I am a Bunny

Peek A Who

St. George and a Dragon

Madeline

Wilfred Gordon McDonald Patridge

Dr. Seuss’ Sleep Book

Stuart Little

Andrew Henry’s Meadow

Frederick

Paddle to the Sea

The Child’s Garden of Verse

Wolf Story

The Ver Persistent Gappers of Frip

The Little Red Hen

Anne of Green Gables

Little Women

The Wind in the Willows

Ramona & Beezus

Ribsy the Dog

The Prince and the Pauper

Gulliver’s Travels

Her Stories

Noah’s Ark (Barbara Shook Hazen)

Old Turtle

The Tale of Three Trees

The Paper Crane

The Orchard Book of Greek Myths

Misty of Chincoteague

Where the Red Fern Grows

Three Little Horses

Brown Bear, Brown Bear

The Precious Present

Treasure Island

Nobody’s Boy

Barrington Bunny

Winnie the Pooh

Tuesday
Oct232012

THE STORY BEHIND MAIDEN VOYAGE

Maiden Voyage is an autobiographical story about my daughter, Carrie, and I going to the Obama inauguration in January of 2009. Here's a bit from an essay I wrote soonafter the experience.

"Carrie and I decided to leave for Washington D.C. on Sunday, even though I had just returned home from a few days in a Connecticut studio and then a gig in north Georgia. This was tough on my son, Sam, as well as my husband, Joe, who had been keeping the kids for days. But my dad came through for us just a couple of days before with tickets to the Obama inauguration. I still am pretty stunned by my dad’s generosity and love for me and his granddaughter, that he would cross party lines like he did and work to find us some safe way to witness what I believed would be one of the seminal events of both my and Carrie’s lifetimes, the inauguration of Barack Obama.

I am torn as I write this essay, because of two major factors: one, that Carrie and I went to Washington D.C. to celebrate with the rest of the world; and two, that Carrie and I were in positions of privilege as we went there. But we all have our story, and this is mine. And if I learned anything from this trip, it is that when one story is told, one thousand stories remain untold.

We decided to drive our Honda Fit up through the mountains of Virginia in order to miss the crowded roadways of I-95 into DC. However, this meant that we drove through several snowstorms on the way. At 10pm on Sunday evening, as we were nearing our hotel in Christiansburg, VA, Carrie and I both looked at the windshield as it was being pelted with snow, with 18 wheelers all around us and temperatures hovering at 32 and 33 degrees, as we learned from Joe who was monitoring the weather conditions for us town by town. Carrie said, “Mom, it’s more snow.” I said, “Yes, honey, and you know what that means,” and she replied, “Yes, we must be brave.”

We made it, of course, and left the hotel early the next morning, even in some pretty icy conditions. There was normal traffic on the roads all the way into DC, but nothing too intense, probably because of the snowy and icy conditions. We arrived in DC around noon, and slowly drove down one of the main thoroughfares as big trucks moved chairs and barricades, and groups of people wandered from museum to monument. Carrie and I left a day early so that we could get in line at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in order to get our coveted tickets by 5pm. Carrie fell asleep just as we found the building, but she got to sleep for an hour as I searched for a place to park.

It’s odd, having a special ticket to something that other people don’t have. Part of me felt guilty, of course, as it seemed everyone in the world wanted what we were getting. And yet I felt grateful, and very lucky. As we found out when we got into Senator Thad Cochran’s office, we had a standing ticket in the Blue Section, rather than a sitting ticket in another place. Somehow I felt better because of that. Nonetheless, I never would have brought my four-year-old daughter without some assurance that we had a place to go. These tickets got us out the door, and to D.C.

We stayed with my cousin on Capitol Hill, which was another coup, because most of the 3 million folks had to take buses and trains into town. Carrie and I left around 9am and made our way up the few blocks to the starting point of our gate entrance. Though everyone seemed genuinely happy, it was cold, and I only had smiles returned to me by volunteers who were directing us up certain streets, and away from the capitol. The city shut most of itself down for this day, and we all had to follow convoluted routes to get where we were going. We were walking up the east side of Capitol Hill, past the east side of the US Capitol, though many blocks further away than one would normally walk to get to those places. After about four blocks, Carrie said, ‘I’m tired of walking.” And I wondered what I had gotten us into. She had a long way to go that day.

The mood went from elated to anxious as we started nearing the blocks where the gate lines began. The orange gate line seemed to have some order (and I’d say, when we passed it, it seemed to have about 1000 people in it, wrapping back and forth through some system I couldn’t register). Those headed towards what they thought was the way for the blue and silver gates had no direction. All we could see was a mass of people in every direction. I panicked a little, nervous that we had gotten a late start, and so we hopped one barricade we saw, pressing through many people, only to eventually maneuver back over that barricade a few minutes later, and then to find that the barricade ended about 15 yards beyond. The area was that packed with people. We asked about 100 people which way to go, and eventually saw the blue gate signs in the distance.

In retrospect I think Carrie and I cut in line in a major way. I seemed to get us pretty close to the blue gate sign by 9:45, with a sea of people all around us, and something resembling a line going off to the south way beyond us. But no one was moving. We met some nice people around us, including a group of folks invited by the new Illinois Senator Burris who had just been appointed by the controversial Illinois governor Rod Blagojevichjust prior to his impeachment. There were many white people and many black people, but not much more ethnic diversity than that. We struck up some nice conversations, and many were charmed by Carrie and her general cuteness.

Carrie was not noticeably nervous in the crowds, she did not seem scared. I pray this was the case, because I was scared for her. One white woman in a fur hat, trying to nose past us, told me I should pick her up, lest she get trampled. Of course I had been picking her up off and on, though it is hard to hold anything that weighs 40 pounds for too long. One younger woman not far from us had a patriotic feather boa on, and she kept anonymously dropping feathers on Carrie’s head and shoulders, so Carrie thought they were arriving by magic. The woman was mere feet from Carrie, close enough to reach Carrie, but we were so crowded in Carrie could not see her, even when I was holding her."

My partial essay ends there. I think at that point it was too painful for me to write about the fact that Carrie and I didn't see the Inauguration. Several thousand people at our gate were turned away due to a 'electrical failure' at the Blue security gate. Over 10,000 people didn't make it in at the Purple Gate for the same reason. I find that explanation implausible, and think that instead there was a perceived terrorist threat that day and that somehow the gov't suspected persons in line at the Blue and Purple gates. Once, when some of us started chanting and booing about the lack of movement in our line, a sniper on top of the Capitol building turned his gun straight at us. We stopped booing.

Around noon, the MASSIVE crowd around us dissipated within moments. I found it pretty surreal. I was holding Carrie, and had been for a couple of hours, and she was asleep in my arms. I could barely move, and had no more energy to act. The temperature still hovered at around 18 degrees. Now I know that everyone fled to various Smithsonian museums where they watched the inauguration on big screens while drinking free hot chocolate. Not us. The picture displayed here is basically where we stood for six hours, and someone took it of us while the inauguration was in process. I cried many tears of anger and frustration at that time, as I had never exerted such energy to do something for my daughter, and failed. Of course the outcome was out of our control, but I could not help but feel personally responsible.

Soonafter, I came to the realization that I could now understand better, but only the smallest amount, how millions and millions of parents feel when they try to provide for their children and cannot due to circumstances beyond their control. I thought of undocumented workers crossing the Texas border and coming into a hostile US simply to provide for their families. I thought of refugee camps filled by the millions. I thought of victims of war and poverty and oppression. I tried to turn the experience into a time of philosophical reflection. 

Carrie and I started walking back to our cousin's apartment. We bought bookmarks for all of her classmates from one of the dozens of vendors. We passed young teenage black boys celebrating Obama's inauguration, in freezing temperatures, and I understood anew what this election meant for the African American community, and for all minorities. I would salvage this experience!!

But then we got a phone call from a friend. She asked if we would come to a building about forty blocks from where we were and watch the parade with her. Jill said they had chicken nuggets, and CAKE. and BEER!!! Carrie and I both salivated at the thought, and we walked those forty blocks with ease. I was ready to get there, as it was freezing and of course I was exhausted and my nerves shot. We passed a flag vendor, and Carrie asked if she could buy a flag. At first I said no, for no good reason other than we had just bought 25 Obama bookmarks. She burst into tears, and I immediately understood my error. We turned around and got that girl a flag. She waved all the way to the building. Pictured below is Carrie waving that flag late in the afternoon while we waited for the parade to begin. It started late because of Ted Kennedy's collapse at the inaugural luncheon. No matter. We had friends, and cake. And a flag. We felt proud to be there. 

 

Thursday
Oct182012

ALICE PATTULLO, ARTIST

I first saw Alice Pattullo’s work in January 2012 when I played with the Cecil Sharp Project at the Cecil Sharp House in London.  Her work hung in a huge exhibit all over the walls of the center, and I immediately fell in love with her style and subject matter. Her images and the way she drew reminded me of adored southern outsider artists and folk artists such as Howard Finster and Theora Hamblett. After returning home to the United States, I kept thinking about Alice Pattullo. I looked at her blog and website and saw that she had studied in Minneapolis MN for a year. I decided that somehow, because of that, she might draw some images for me as a means of collaboration for the new album. I wrote her and she immediately responded. Our artistic relationship began.

I explained my basic concept for three images, all based on specific songs off of the album, Camilla. Alice started with the song “White Dress”, based on the 24-year-old Mae Frances Moultrie and her participation in the Freedom Riders movement in 1961. Moultrie rode the infamous Anniston, Alabama bus that exploded from a firebomb. I told Alice that Moultrie stepped off the bus and into the seething mob, which was waiting for her, in a white dress, white pumps, and white earrings. I also told Alice that my favorite personal heroes of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement were Diane Nash, Fannie Lou Hamer, James Lawson and Bob Moses.

Next, Alice began work on “Black Mountain Lullaby”, a song I wrote with the Cecil Sharp Project about the death of Jeremy Davidson, a three-year-old who lived in a trailer with his family outside of mountainous Appalachia, Virginia. The Davidsons lived just below a ridge where coal companies were widening roads so they could bring in larger trucks to cut off the top of the ridge, a form of the mountaintop removal style of coal mining. One fateful evening in 2004, trucks pushed a large boulder over the side of the ridge. It bounded down the mountain and literally rolled through the Davidson’s trailer, crushing Jeremy in his bed.

I told Alice that we made the song into a mother’s lullaby after one of the Cecil Sharp Project members found a Sharp song collection fragment that read, “bye, baby, baby bye”.

Alice then began work on the image “Traveling Shoes”, but soon into it I decided that Alice had to design the album cover instead!  That panel contains images from several songs. Perhaps most prevalent are those from the song “Fireflies”, including a little girl in her nightgown and a house on fire. We also took images and information from the official website of Camilla, Georgia, a small, picturesque town that farms peanuts and raises cattle. In the shadow background on the right one can see Marion King taking her casserole and her children to the Camilla jail, walking towards an incident upon which the title track “Camilla” is based. The town of Camilla, GA, close in name to my hometown of Canton, and also representative of so many southern towns, sits between two rivers, both of which are shown on Alice’s panel. The hanging shoes towards the top are from the song “Traveling Shoes,” based on a short story by Eudora Welty. One can also see the shadow of Phoenix Jackson, the protagonist of the story, in the shadow background on the left. Alice’s interpretation of this Welty character features much more prominently on my poster (see the press page). Lastly, I told Alice that I love camellias, a winter-blooming rose family. She chose the birds, which fly in several of my songs.

After we finished the initial project, I asked Alice to make a poster for me. After some discussion we decided to have her superimpose images on top of my black and white press photo. She included characters and other stylistic references from many of my songs and from all of the above images. I love that she also included me as character amongst them. I asked to wear a red dress, based completely on the red dress I bought when I was in London in January 2012. I wore it when I played at the Cecil Sharp House.

 

Thanks, Alice. 

  – Caroline Herring

 

For more information on Alice Pattullo, please visit

http://www.alicepattullo.com/

http://alice-pattullo.blogspot.com/