September 10, 2023
Autumn Tour Kickoff
It has begun, in short bursts punctuated by chunks of time at home. This is the reality for a lot of "independent" musicians in this "post-pandemic" content-streaming world. I'm not going to waste much energy lamenting what has been lost, or what I wish for in terms of returning to the old days - several shows in a row separated by big drives, to process wonderful time with friends old and new and sights seen and yet to come.
This autumn is my busiest schedule in four years, and it is now underway in fitting fashion. First the livestream from the "Make-a-Living Room" here at home, where somehow thanks to so many of you, I kept enough income flowing during the shutdown and each sputtering restart to keep the roof overhead and food on the table. It certainly seemed appropriate to start with a show for everyone in all the various corners of the world who helped make it possible!
And the first in-person concert, a Saturday night deep in the western Virginia mountains, in the little Highland County town of Monterey, with about 150 residents, a crossroads with a blinking light, and a lovely old school-turned-arts center. While here at home the mercury was still kissing the upper 80s, I arrived for a 4:45 load-in greeted by all of 63°. A community greeted me - the people who arrange the details, set up and run the sound system, make dinner for the visiting performer, take tickets at the door, set up the chairs, and of course, come and let me share my songs and stories with them for a while.
It's farm country, and the winters are harder than anyplace else in the Commonwealth. It has been nearly as dry there as it has been at home, so after opening with "My Little Town" I followed it up with "Dancing in the Rain", in the hopes that all of us will get enough of it soon to stave off the worst. From my spot on the stage I could see out the front door of the building, and as I sang I could literally see the cows grazing in the field just across the valley. It was a very special night indeed, the kid from a small town sharing his work on a stage in a small town. Thank you Highlanders for making me so welcome and letting me share a night of this crazy life with you.
As I usually do, I enjoyed the gift of hospitality with people who were kind enough to invite me to stay in their lovely work-in-progress house restoration of an 1858 house in town. They were on the last of the grid streets in town, but their 28 acres backed up the mountain to the spring that was their water supply. We sat out on the beautiful old porch sipping bourbon and talking til way into the wee hours.
This morning, properly and gratefully caffeinated, I did another of my touring things - bagged the interstate completely. I used to love driving I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley back when I first started touring in the mid-90s, but the ever-increasing heavy truck traffic long ago ran over that joy. I had no deadline today, and that was the only permission I needed to take US 220 up through eastern West Virginia.
The road less traveled often comes with its own rewards, and today was no exception. Despite the beauty of occasional mountain mist and dappled sunlight on the south fork of the south branch of the not-so-mighty Potomac River, I did start to get concerned about finding breakfast at some point since not a place was open for the first 30 miles. I needn't have worried. In the little crossroads of Franklin WV, all the downtown spots were closed, but the Subway had a marquee that boldly pronounced "Breakfast starting at 7am".
And they weren't kidding. The young lady behind the counter was busy ladeling eggs into three skillets, adding Subway ingredients to order, and making serious fresh breakfast omelette sandwiches. I've never seen that at a Subway in more than 25 years touring, and when I asked, she told me that they were the last Subway in the nation that made fresh breakfast like that. And I just happened to find them in the remotes of deep Appalachia, when my hope of getting anything at all was fading fast.
So begins another attempt at reconstituting some part of my old touring life, complete with fresh reminders of all the amazing "you can't make this shit up" experiences that have been integral threads of my time on the road. It's the people, and the places, and the spaces between the places that have always made my work indescribably rewarding. Yes, I came home with a good chunk of the mortgage - alleluia! But once again, I am far richer for the experiences, the privilege and the blessings of this crazy life in music.
To everyone who made these last few days special, please believe me when I say that I'm the luckiest guy I know. After all, I've been to Highland County.
Looking westward from the ridgetop that is the Highland-Augusta County border.
Yet another lovely surprise - what a great porch to hang out and visit anytime!