the final inning + last free download

the last download of this project is a live version of “the little cowboy” from our show on 8 OCT in Portland ME. it features the awesome slide playing of “distillation” producer dave chalfant. thanks to everyone who came out to the shows, watched the webcast, and took home some anniversary schwag!

as i wrap up the anniversary project, i’ve been thinking that being a musician is a little like being a professional athelete. if you’re in a band, you’re like a baseball team; if you’re me, you’re like a tennis player. but check this out:

in many of the same ways, the business of sports and the music industry reward youth. travel and performance are physically demanding, especially over a long period of time. you ride an emotional rollercoaster, getting yourself up every night for a game or a gig, and riding your adreneline until you crash- in victory or defeat. only to do it again the next day, in the next town. from the outside, the life appears glamorous, but behind the scenes the work of practice is hard and the down time is often incredibly boring. both demand endless self-promotion and an ego of a certain size and toughness to weather the grueling work and inevitable rejections.

older atheletes will tell you that what they lose in flexibility, speed, or stamina, they make up for with experience, wisdom, and wiles developed over seasons.  the same is true with music. my listening skills only get deeper the older i get. my writing continues to hone itself of its own accord through repetition. what my hands can no longer do, i’m learning to do with my voice. the pleasure of music, the nuance in the art, is only growing deeper and more apparent to me.

doug glanville, a former pro baseball player, wrote a fabulous blog last year for the new york times. one of his entries described the end of an athlete’s playing career.  as a certain pitcher said it, you never stop loving playing the game, you stop loving preparing to play the game.

when i read that, my heart leapt. i feel exactly the same way, and like in so many other ways in my life, sports is able to articulate something i couldnt otherwise put my finger on.

in the past few years, i’ve been building an identity and community outside the music industry. one that is more consistent and not based on someone else’s approval. i have a community that cares for me whether i have 2000 twitter followers or none, whether i have a new album or not. i’ve worked so hard for so long in an all-consuming business, that i didnt know the toll it was taking on my body or my spiritual life. now that i have slowed down, it’s painfully obvious to me.

i’m not gonna stop playing music. i can’t. it’s how i think, how i express myself, where i find joy and creative fufillment. i absolutely love getting to meet all the folks who have supported my music for so long. but in many ways, my playing days are done. the “distillation” anniversary project has allowed me to see that and to celebrate the hard work i’ve put in so far. i say that from a place of acceptance and excitement about what my future holds.

as i sit here this november, looking ahead to 2011, i’ve got an awful lot on my plate. i’m starting to write a new record. i’ll be heading to a few more conferences this year to share and connect with inspiring minds of all sorts. i’m going to put more time into my acting. i’m going to start a production studio. i want to do a bike tour and collaborate with some new artists. and, who knows, maybe i’ll go into coaching.

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go west, young man + free download

as i head to the west coast, this week’s download is “love in 2 parts”, which ends the album “distillation” and opens the anniversary shows. it is most definitely one song and describes a relationship i was in that was… shall we say, manic. it also mentions the incredible burden of rent in the bay area!

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looking back on the early years of my career, i’m surprised at the kind of travel craziness i used to sign up for. i routinely hopped planes, cars, and buses in the same day- early in the morning, long after gigs, and often carrying obscene amounts of gear by my lonesome.

from the very beginning of my career, it’s been important to me to play as far and wide as possible. so even before it was financially feasible or responsible, i was trooping off to the west coast or overseas. i have always just wanted to be out there, beyond the friendly confines (and perceptions) of the northeast US.

so, in this dire economic climate, and even more dire music industry epoch, i’m heading out to the west coast to bring the “distillation anniversary tour” to Oregon, Washington, and California. my shoestring budget and creative travel decisions are reminding me of the first tour i ever did on the west coast, in the summer of 1998.

at the time, i had just finished my second year of college, and i was on my way to that rite of passage known as “time off”.  but before i settled in for a fall of finding myself, i decided to play on the west coast.  i had a few friends in LA who helped me get my first gig- at a place called “fais dodo”. i made calls and sent packages and eventually hooked up enough gigs to get me to seattle.

even though i was 21, i somehow was able to rent a car, which i gigged out of all the way up the coast. i remember stopping for a few days in san luis obispo, where the gig came with a night at the local hostel.  then it was on to san francisco (first gigs: a berkelely house concert, then the bearded lady). from san francisco, i ditched my rental and got on a greyhound bus heading north. i stopped for a gig in redding, before hitting eugene and portland. i stuck around for a few days with friends in portland then headed up to  olympia, seattle, and bellingham, again by bus.

i met alot of musicians like myself- hungry, happy, making it work somehow. i crashed with friends and did a lot of walking. and i carried everything i needed in a frame pack, including a tiny guitar amp. i brought one guitar and rolled a cardboard box of cassettes along behind me, strapped to a folding cart.

i felt exhilarated, playing for 20, sometimes 25 people. i wasnt tired. sometimes, i was scared, especially when i had a lot of time to kill and no place to hang my hat. i kind of marvel looking back on it now. how did i know what to do? how did it all work out so well?

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philly works!

philly works. it’s that simple. my experience as a musician playing in the city of brotherly love has been the model of what’s supposed to happen, when it’s supposed to happen, how it’s supposed to happen.

early on, i got hooked up with my friend jesse lundy, who was promoting with the awesome rich kardon at the point. they believed in me when i was still a wee pup figuring out my show. they set me up in little coffeehouses and opening for bigger acts in places like the TLA, until i graduated to my own shows at the point.

one of my favorite stories ever as a musician began one night at the point. i had heard susan werner at a folk festival in the summer of 1998. she blew my mind. i began to study her records and shows like a med student cramming for boards. i found out that she lived near the point, and through friends, had contacted her to invite her to a show i was playing there that fall. i put her name on the guest list that night, and after the show, i scanned the buzzing crowd hopefully, looking for her. i didnt see her, and felt disappointed that she had somehow missed the show.

about a week later, i went to my PO box in providence and found an envelope with a mainline return address. it was a typewritten note from susan werner! she had seen my show, but slipped out when the lights came on. she was so complementary and supportive and funny and tough, too. getting that letter was one of the sweetest moments of my young artistic life.

a few months later, i got the opportunity to open for susan at another special philly spot, the tin angel. it was the first of many nights on that fabulous, tiny stage. i got to watch a master work that room, and i took in every detail. 12 years later, susan is one of my closest friends, and our relationship has evolved way past my hero-worship.

just like new york, it was radio that changed everything for me in philly. bruce warren at WXPN and david dye at world cafe took a shine to “blackbirds”. they played my music, put me on their festivals, gave me so many fantastic opportunities to get in front of their loyal listeners. i’ll be forever grateful.

10 years later, i wouldnt be able to still be going strong without the belief and support of stations like WXPN. neither commercial, nor public, the listener supported model of radio is flexible, local, and responsive and grows relationships between artists and listeners.

from great promoters, to artistic heroes, to loyal radio support, philly has always been there for me. thanks philly!!

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WFUV and Making it in the Ci-tay.

this week’s download is “la petite mort” (or “the oh estelle” song), from the original version of Distillation. it tells the story of a wedding day gone wrong!

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i went to school in providence RI, a medium-sized city with a gritty arts scene and a surrealist bent to its public art. living in a city was a new experience for me. i had grown up in a small town in virginia, and, at the time, it was far enough away from DC to feel like its own entity. today, with the swell of cookie cutter housing developments, it’s harder to make that argument.

i started my career in high school, and by the fall of my freshman year in providence, i was in full swing. i didnt have a car, but i could “tour” by taking the bus to boston, or northampton, philly, or… new york. i’d been to the City a few times as a kid, and then later to visit some older high school friends. but starting to play there seemed daunting.

what i remember most is how often i went. multiple times a month. and i also remember playing a lot for free or for tips plus a modest guarantee.  there was that epic night in brooklyn with my friend trina hamlin where i took my shirt off during my set in an effort to get people to shut up and listen. there were many nights on the matchbox sized stage at postcrypt, under columbia. and a little later there were many nights at the old living room, on the corner of stanton and allen. i would be one of 5 acts that night, slowly getting more and more people to pay attention. i also dipped my toe into the sacred waters of the bottom line, opening for anyone they asked me to.

everything changed for me in new york when “distillation” came out.  “blackbirds” marked my entry onto radio playlists for the first time. and for the first time i began to see how powerful radio could be. what radio did in a few months would have taken me years to get to on my own.

so i feel incredibly grateful that “blackbirds” caught the ear of my friend rita houston and WFUV. in new york, if you’re listening to songwriters, you are listening to WFUV. over the years, they’ve cultivated one of the coolest, most loyal, and fun audiences i have ever played for.

i remember one night, at the old knitting factory on ludlow. it was my first real headlining show at a proper venue in new york. i had my band, and one of my favorite songwriters, veda hille, was on the bill with me. standing center stage in a quiet moment, i was able to take a second and appreciate what i saw before me. to a packed crowd on the floor, and the people filling the little balcony, i said, “thanks FUV for playing my music!”  the roar that greeted me was tremendous.

10 years later, celebrating “distillation” at the highline ballroom, i’m so happy to also celebrate my relationship with FUV. they’ve grown with me and continued to support my music through all it’s own left turns. the music business is a complicated and delicate tightrope walk, but i thank FUV for taking the risks with me.

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light up the series of tubes + be a virtual audience member + free download of “queen of quiet”

this week’s download is “queen of quiet (fancy radio mix)” – a remix from an EP of the same title. the original song appeared as the first track on “distillation”
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last summer, i had an idea: why not broadcast over the internet a series of concerts from my rural cabin and use them as a fundraiser for my next album? cabin fever seemed like a pretty simple and clever way to raise money and give listeners a unique experience.

turns out i loved webcasting. i got to interact with listeners in a new and intimate way. i got to act like a TV presenter or old-fashioned master of ceremonies. i got to bring in amazing friends as special guests. i got to create a visual style to match my music. i also got to solve audio and other technical problems. i love figuring out how to make things work!

i’ve been wanting to do another webcast and the “distillation anniversary tour” is an awesome opportunity to continue exploring how we can all use the internet for new creative purposes.

so, on oct 20, 9p EST, you can tune in and watch one of the “distillation anniversary tour” shows, live from chicago’s lincoln hall. like cabin fever, this webcast will be super interactive. there’ll be a chat window and twitter feed, and you’ll be able to request songs for the second set (remember, the first set will be distillation in its entirety).

but i also wanted to step up the visual experience. this time, there will be 3 cameras, a video montage made up of clips you send in, and we’ll be pulling in live feeds from fans all over the world. plus you’re going to get to hang with me backstage during the setbreak. in a few months, we’re going to offer an HD archive version that will have all kinds of extra footage. i even get to write a theme song and the bumps that will take us in and out of setbreaks.

you can buy a ticket here.

to help me up the ante, i’ve partnered with web.illish.us,  multidisciplinary design studio that produces live webcast experiences. it’s run by a fire-cracker of a woman, dejha ti. i met dejha last year at the future of music policy summit. we quickly recognized in each other kindred artistic and political souls.

dejha’s company and i are sharing the investment and splitting an equal profit from the webcast. we are sharing the risk and the reward in order to build a longer term relationship. i could have easily employed web.illish.us and funded the webcast myself. or, like many artists, i could have found corporate sponsorship for my event. partnering with web.illish.us is not only a choice to support and develop with a company i believe in, it also affords us creative tools not limited by my budget.

if you’re still reading this far, thank you!  this webcast also fits into important work that i’ve been doing around maintaining a free and open internet. i’ve long been a public supporter of net neutrality. here’s a quick primer, but basically it describes a free and open internet absent of gatekeepers and artificial bottlenecks of service or access.

i have made deliberate choices in my career to maintain an honest and open relationship with listeners and to give them new and exciting music that is affordable. i have partnered with companies that i believe in and worked with people i trust.  my webcasts are an extension of this philosophy. thus in the current climate of media monoliths and invisible hands, i see webcasts from independant artists as radical tools.

ever notice how when a company like american express sponsors a web event, it doesn’t cost anything? but think for a moment. do you really think it’s free? by allowing american express to brand and pay the overhead for a webconcert (whether the artist receives a fee or not), that artist has essentially sold their fanbase to american express. this sets up a disturbing trend. only artists with large financial (read: corporate) backing are able to offer these “free” experiences. just like in the old fashioned music industry, this has very real creative implications for the “have-nots”, those of us not on major labels or associated with other media conglomerates.

your webcast ticket price is going to myself and dejha, two women who are building relationships and companies that are outside the mainstream. in turn, we’re giving that money to the venue, lincoln hall, who is hosting us. to the crew who is filming. to the band that is playing. to cover our gas, our flights, our cameras and guitars. do the math and you’ll guess correctly that we’re not turning a profit or selling your attention to another company. your $8 means more than watching a webcast, it is a vote for a responsible, transparent, and creative experience. web.illish.us and i want you to be there!

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download of “easy baby” + remembering my first gig at passim

this week’s download is “easy baby”- recorded from the stage of club passim, cambridge MA on 7 december, 1997 and broadcast live on boston’s WERS. it’s part of “small deviant things, vol.1 1997-99″, my handmade archival series.
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in exactly a week, i’ll be heading over to boston to do a radio appearance on WERS and play a gig at club passim as part of the Anniversary tour.  i feel incredibly lucky that my first time on the famous passim stage was broadcast live and documented for posterity. i can guarantee that on that cold sunday afternoon in 1997 i was not imagining what it would be like to play at passim 12 years later, i was just thrilled for the gig.

at the time, i was in my sophomore year of college in providence. i’d been seriously playing out for about 2 years. i’d made my first demo cassette (anybody out there have a copy?), and i was running my career myself. i spent a lot of time sending out packages and calling folks asking for gigs. passim was like the promised land; it was a real venue in a real city. i’d just played my first real new york gig at the postcrypt, was a regular already at northampton’s fire and water, but i hadn’t cracked boston or the venerable passim. i couldn’t even get my calls returned.

sunday afternoons, passim did a writers-in-the-round showcase and ERS broadcast it live. as i remember it, an old friend of mine, the songwriter andrew calhoun, called and mentioned that another artist (i’ve since forgotten who) had cancelled at the last minute. could i get up to passim in time to take her place in the round?

i remember being so concerned about whether i “belonged” in this historic home of folk music that i made a joke about it onstage. i  wondered whether using my wah-pedal was sacrilege in that space. i was definitely overcompensating to prove i belonged no matter how adventurous my sound, because i actually hate wah-pedals and cant remember ever using one again.

so i slipped in through passim’s back door, literally and figuratively. in the years since, i have played numerous times on the campfire weekends and have settled into a yearly visit of 2 or 3 or 4 shows. not counting the times i have sat in with friends, it’s added up to many many appearances on that tiny stage.

right alongside the iron horse in northampton, the tin angel in philly, and cafe du nord in san francisco, passim has been the site of some pretty incredible moments for me. i’ve debuted songs there, completely flopped there, gotten standing ovations, and been surprised by what’s come out of my mouth (anyone remember my dream about theo epstein?).   bringing “distillation” back to a stage where it was first welcomed is going to be a real treat.

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Asheville NC + the story of the dress

it’s finally here! today i head to asheville NC to start the “distillation” anniversary tour. i’ll be performing the record in sequence for the first time, solo, for an intimate audience in a tiny theater. pressure? i’ll let you know.

i don’t remember the first time i played asheville, but i know i’ve been going there regularly since “distillation” came out, and it’s a town i have always felt at home in. i wanted the anniversary tour to stop in towns where i’ve built my best and biggest audiences, so asheville is a great place to kick off.

a couple weeks ago, an odd question popped into my mind. when was the last time i put on the dress i wore on the cover of my first record? hmmm, not since the photo shoot, 10 years ago. and then i wondered, does it still fit? i rummaged around my house until i found it again, in a box under a box at the bottom of a pile of sartorial bits saved from all points in my 32 years.

i’ve been planning the “distillation 10th anniversary” for a couple months now, but it wasnt until i tried putting on the dress that the anniversary became real. looking at myself in the mirror, wearing what had been so 2-dimensionally familiar for so many years, i suddenly felt like i stepped right back into the record cover.

10 years ago, i ran out the door of my loft apartment in providence, late for a photo shoot with my friend pam murray. i ran into my building-mate, beth, in the stairwell.

“do you want to borrow anything for your shoot?” she asked.

i had a few pieces of clothing, a tape deck that looked like an old radio, and my friend keith’s cowboy hat in my hand. other than that, i didn’t have much of a vision for my record cover.

“sure, got anything good?” i said.

i stood in the door of her apartment as she rummaged around.

“you want this dress? it doesn’t fit me.”

“sure.”

“you want some stockings? though they might be too fancy.”

“sure.”

“how about my banjo?”

“i don’t play banjo, but sure.”

during the shoot, pam and i used every single thing i brought, in different combinations. pam had a giant green chair in her studio, and the dress, with its little pattern of green and blue flowers looked good against it. i put on the stockings beth thought might be too fancy, and, all stretched out, they kept falling below my knees.

“oh well,” i thought, “it’s a look.”

of all the things i might remember about what turned out to be an iconic and successful shoot, what i remember most is that i had bought my first tube of lipstick at CVS so i’d look professional. i’d never worn, let alone bought, lipstick before. without realizing, i bought a garish and unnatural pink. i remember crouching in front of a reflective surface and gamely smearing some on while pam set up her lights.

“distillation” was my first attempt at a lot of things. recording an album. designing its look. embarking on this new life as a professional musician. putting on lipstick for the first time.

what you don’t know can’t possibly hurt you. in fact, regarding “distillation”, i’d say that what you don’t know would only get in the way.

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