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. 




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






The song Camilla is about Marion King, an African-American resident of Albany, Georgia, who visited her maid's daughter at the Camilla jail in July of 1962 during the Albany Movement. The young woman had marched in a civil rights demonstration; local authorities arrested her and, due to the overcrowding of area jails by civil rights demonstrators, sent her to an outlying jail. Mrs. King was six months pregnant, and she took her young children with her to visit. Marion King joined a group of visitors outside the jail and started singing with them. I first read about Marion King in Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters:

pp. 615-616
"Irritably, to cut down on the noise and bother, the deputies shooed the waiting visitors away from the fence. All skittered backward except for a woman with two small children, who backed up slowly and silently, seemingly unaware of the commition. Marion King did not move fast enough. Something about her prompted the sheriff and one uniformed deputy to walk briskly outside. "I mean you!" one shouted. King retreated steadily. She had seen Ella Mae in the jail window and did not want to set an example of cowering in fear. A split second later, the sheriff slapped her sharply across the face. Three-year-old Abena went sprawling from her arms to the pavement. One year-old DuBois shrieked. As the sheriff slapped her again, the deputy kicked her in the shins, knocking her feet from beneath her, and then kicked her several times more on the ground."

Marion King soon after miscarried. You can watch television footage of King interviewed in her hospital bed at this link:

Marion King is one of the thousands upon thousands of heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Unlike many others, she did not die, though her unborn child did. At Marion King's funeral in 2007, Dr. Vincent Harding described her as a 'social midwife', one of the many women and men brave enough to birth a new era. I love that term, and wonder if songwriters, at their best, are such a vehicle. I wrote about Marion King, I suppose, because she was a mother, and because I could watch the television footage of her describing her beating. I also liked writing about another King besides MLK, Jr. There were many. Also, Marion King later went to law school and became and assistant Attorney for the city of Atlanta. That's sort of a happy ending.

When I was a freshman at Ole Miss (the nickname for The University of Mississippi), I lived on the top floor of the twin towers, in the girls' building. On that top floor lived the honors students and the minority students, or at least that's what I saw very clearly as I went to and fro from day to day. That year I also watched all the episodes of Eyes on the Prize at a Civil Rights and Journalism conference on campus. And that fall, for an American History class project, I compared newspaper headlines of the New York Times and Jackson MS Clarion Ledger's coverage of James Meredith's integration of Ole Miss. There was quite a difference in those headlines. The culmination of these three things made me thirsty, at age 18, for more knowledge about the heroes of my region. Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters, given to me by my old girls' camp director, helped. So did David Halberstam's The Children, and many other books.

I would love to write more about the U.S. South Civil Rights movement. Another of the songs on my album Camilla is about Mae Frances Moultrie, one of the original 1961 Freedom Riders who stumbled off a firebombed bus outside of Anniston, Alabama, in a white dress. In this 50th anniversary era of the Civil Rights Movement, I wish more would watch Eyes on the Prize, and read Parting the Waters and The Children, and make a pilgrimage to the areas where heroes stood. That might be quite a trip, though, as heroes stood everywhere.

And they all deserve a song.



I just returned from a week in England, and as always I am grateful, overwhelmed, and inspired by my experiences there. There is too much to learn in this world of other traditions, but I have gotten a special view into one aspect of English folk music through my associations with musicians and music promoters there.
This is precisely how I felt after living in Texas. When I moved to Texas in 1999, I had barely heard the accordion played live. After a few months there, I knew the specifics about zydeco, cajun, czech polka and conjunto accordion styles. Certainly the accordion is a mainstay of English folk music, but for me it's now it's the mandola, the cittern, the bouzouki that I've discovered - in all of their varieties. Jim Moray showed me his brand new tenor bouzouki (or was it a mandola?) styled like Robert Johnson's guitar (picture below).
Of course one also finds out more about one's own traditions when traveling abroad. I met and heard Jonathan Byrd from North Carolina, and was thrilled to talk with someone who has traveled a path so similar to mine. He is excellent. See us all playing with the Sweetback Sisters in the picture above. And then there are The Sweetback Sisters, who are on my record label, and who sing the prettiest country and gospel harmonies I've heard.
Lastly, Maddy Prior. I didn't even know who she was when I was up on that stage in Shrewsbury a couple of days ago. I do now: Maddy Prior is a English folk queen, a member of Steeleye Span and in the Silly Sisters with June Tabor. I might have shrunk from the stage if I had known such information.
Of course, I treasure above all playing with dear friends. There is something about this music business that makes me cling to fellow musician mothers, and I will always treasure playing with Kathryn Roberts on the main stage at Shrewsbury, though I think a 4000-seater tent may be beyond me. I do like the smaller venues best, and tremble a bit when looking out at all of those little faces in such a big place. I also loved playing with Patsy Reid, a Scottish fiddler and singer of the highest order. Perhaps I have never met such a kind person and consummate professional. I would love to travel her beautiful country and play with her days on end. I wish i had a picture of us playing together at Shrewsbury, as I would treasure it. As I've learned over the past two years, England and Scotland are worlds apart.
Thanks for viewing my photo montage. Now I'm home, and the cd release season is upon me. Goodbye for now, dear England.


The story behind Black Mountain Lullaby

I saw a comment last night on Facebook - from Silas House.

"Eight years ago today, three year-old Jeremy Davidson was killed in his own bed in Appalachia, VA when a half-ton boulder--dislodged by a dozer cutting an illegal road at 2:30 in the morning on an MTR site--crashed through the exterior wall of the Davidson trailer, two interior walls, and came to rest on Jeremy's bed. He was an Appalachian child...". 

I thought it fitting to mention it here because it was Silas, in a way, who brought my attention to Jeremy Davidson in the first place. On February 19, 2011, Silas wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled "My Polluted Kentucky Home." And this was the last paragraph:

"As a child I once stood on a cedar-pocked ridge with my father, looking down on a strip mine near the place that had been our family cemetery. My great-aunt’s grave had been “accidentally” buried under about 50 feet of unwanted topsoil and low-grade coal; “overburden,” the industry calls it. My father took a long, deep breath. I feel that I’ve been holding it ever since."

Last March I participated in The Cecil Sharp Project, a life-changing collaboration between myself, one Canadian, and six folks from the UK in a Shropshire farmhouse. The English Folk Song and Dance Society & The Shrewsbury Folk Festival invited us to work for six days and then present a body of work based on Cecil Sharp, the famed English folk song and dance collector who spent the better part of three years in Appalachia collecting over 2,000 versions of English folks songs which transported themselves to the United States.

I did not go with any preconceived ideas, but I had just read Silas' essay when I went to the farmhouse. Quickly we all realized that ours was a herculean task, and immediately we racked our brains for any leads. I thought of the essay, and of the plight of Appalachia, and of mountaintop removal, and how Jeremy's story seemed to fit right in with the ballads that real people sang and sing about life's hardships. The English ballad tradition is brutal - they are afraid of nothing when it comes to subject matter - and I can see now why certain song traditions are so important to people. Songs help people survive. As a mother of young children, I wondered if songs had helped Jeremy's mother survive.

The Project group immediately embraced my song idea about Jeremy Davidson and mountaintop removal, and Kathryn Roberts even found a lullaby song fragment from one of Sharp's collection. The next day we had a song: Black Mountain Lullaby. I wrote the verses, but it happened because of the urgency of the project (and because Silas quickly answered his emails, guiding me to newspaper articles). It is a terribly sad song, but ends with a mother bracing herself against life's cruelty by celebrating the memory of her son.

The 'Sharpies', as we call ourselves, decided that we should sing this song on the BBC in London when we went in for the full interview. You can hear that interview on my music page under The Cecil Sharp Project BBC 3 Radio 'In Tune" interview. Two of the members of the group told me they thought this song was the most important thing we did all week. I humbly agree.

I wonder, do we exploit people, and situations, when we write about their tragedies? I've worried about that with Jeremy Davidson, and i think the folks who fight against mountaintop removal in Appalachia worry about it, too. I, we, wrote this song tenderly, and with respect for Jeremy's family and for his life. I think we honor him. And I think we honor the sanctity of life when we care enough about it to fight against injustice. I have never been prouder of a song than I am of this one.

See the video:

Cecil Sharp Project:

BBC 3 In Tune Interview (under Cecil Sharp Project)

The Cecil Sharp Project singing Meadows of Dan (view HERE)
(Sharp's first visit to Appalachia was to Meadows of Dan, Virginia in 1916)

Articles about the death of Jeremy Davidson, mountaintop removal and me:


Published in THE COALFIELD PROGRESS, Norton, Virginia, April 29, 2011

A brief mention of a Wise County tragedy in a New York Times editorial resulted in the composition of a haunting song that stirs memories of a dark day in 2004 and connects it to the long tradition of Appalachian ballads. On Aug. 20, 2004, three-year-old Jeremy Kyle Davidson was asleep in his bed in the Inman community when a halfton boulder dislodged by a bulldozer widening a mine site road crashed through the side of his parents Dennis and Cindy Davidson’s home, killing the child.

Read the full article HERE


Gather round my table

Say grace with me

In my little trailer

In the mountains of Wise County

Grief is mine forever

Sadness my story

Down in Inman Hollow

In the mountains of Wise County

Bye baby baby bye

little baby bye bye

Mountaintops are made of

1,000 pound boulders

that roll down the hills

and on to our shoulders

Lord, let me bear it

for safe keeping

Lord, let me shield it

From my dearest Jeremy

Bye baby baby bye

little baby bye bye

Mama will rock you

til you’re sleeping

Angels will hold you

in their keeping

Powerful men will

make their money

Your name will live here

in the mountains of Wise County

Bye baby baby bye

little baby bye bye

My little baby bye bye.