I was going to write this newsletter about being uninspired and spending two weeks living in a dorm room in Detroit, but then I stumbled upon THE ARK.
***Long story to follow, if you're in it for the tour dates and recommends section, scroll down!
It was open mic night, score(!). I paid the three dollar cover and settled into my seat. Mmmmm the sweet sweet nervous energy, the strange and beautiful iterations, the stuttering, the self deprecation, the HUMANITY!
Recipe for an outstanding open mic night:
A beautiful seated venue with delicious acoustics
Black and white pictures on the walls of when Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Taj Mahal, Jason Isbell, and everyone else performed there
A professional and affable sound man
A lottery system to decide the 15 lucky performers
Bright stage lights
Encouraged “rapt” listening
2 songs each
THE ARK, obviously, had it all.
First up….Ruby(!) – red plastic bowl hat, red dress, red shoes, ukulele, and BLUE hair. She played a pair of “I don’t believe in love" love songs, pranced off the stage, remembered something, pranced back, and announced that she’d never played that one song that way before and hoped it was okay. Everyone said it was.
Next...Reverend Nate(!) – from town-I’ve-never-heard-of, MI, French hat, G chord with the pinky, Martin guitar. He asked, “how old do you think the blues are?” And then played his twelve bar blues adaptation of Psalm 88, claiming “older than you thought."
Our first and only non-guitar act, round Ron with a New York accent, gave a vocal performance over instrumental tracks 3 and 4 from his second studio album. Track 4 was about geriatric cruise vacations to the tune of “YMCA.” We all did the hand motions.
[ Rewind for a moment to just before the house lights went down. An older gentleman with huge glasses and a baseball cap - Ted Van Something - handed me and nine other people in the audience hand-copied lyrics to the song he was planning on performing. “I’m up fourth," he said, "it’s a song of resistance, I’d really appreciate it if you sang along.” ]
Sure enough, Ted batted fourth, our only performer with visuals, leading off his act with an original poster: “Chickens belong in Cages, Not Humans.” Then he announced his recent half-blindness and not being as good as he used to be, and played the before mentioned rousing resistance number. We sang along with gusto!
Next was a giant punk rock-ish twenty-something from Canada, Ty. He came all the way across the border to The Ark open mic last month and didn’t get picked to perform. Not this time, he transfixed the room with his big soulful voice and toe tapping guitar chops. Pop songwriting. Church vibes. It was a polished act! Groove sweet groove, hallelujah!
Beanpole bright shirt Jim played a heartbreaking marital dynamics parody song called, “I’ll ignore you louder than you’re ignoring me.”
Don paid homage to Greg Brown – so I was an instant super fan — followed by a racially charged song about living just outside of Detroit, “On this side of the line everything is just fine."
Could-barely-walk-up-on-stage Pat, looked just like Pete Seeger and closed the night with a hilarious and beautiful song about the history of aviation, “No one lives forever, and I gotta fly."
My ticket didn’t get pulled, or else it might have been Jenner Fox, is that his real name? Bruce Springsteen wanna-be black shirt, sings song about his Dad’s tooth and one that rhymed “constipated” with “stress related.”
So what’s the point? I don’t know the recipe for successipe. I don’t know where the muse hides. Sometimes the thing that burned yesterday no longer does it. But I do know, that I’ve never left an open mic with an empty notebook.
August 3-8 - Cassiopeia Songwriting Camp with GOALS, Green River, UT
August 10 - Evergreen, CO - Barefoot in the Meadow, fundraiser for GOALS – Tickets
August 12 - St Louis, MO - House Concert - More Info
October 20 - Willimantic, CT - Bread Box Theatre
October 25 - Asheville, NC - Isis Music Hall – Tickets
October 26 - Chatanooga, TN - Charles and Myrtle's Coffee House
October 28 - Knoxville, TN - WDVX 89.9 Blue Plate Special
October 30 - Awendaw, SC - Awendaw Green
November 22– Truckee, CA – House Concert
November 23 - Bend, OR - Tumalo House Concert
***Email email@example.com for house concert details
Hans Bilger's new record comes out September 6th!!! Hans is a dear friend and has been my right hand music man for a few years live and on my records. His new album, Meridian, is imaginative and beautiful and moving. You can preorder Meridian here, and check out the single, "Had It And Lost It" here.
Cornel West – gives a talk at Brown University about just about everything and you might never want to hear anyone else talk again. My friend Jesse Lee sent this to me and I'm on my second watch. What an incredible mind and delivery of words. I'm converted to the Cornel West religion.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – it's worth it alone for Neil's narration (I recommend the audible version where he reads, not the ensemble). I've been meaning to listen to this one for a long time and it's lovely. A fantastical journey for all ages.
Bruce singing "Racing in the Street" live with the E Street Band. I got to see Steve Earle live a few weeks ago and he closed with a cover of Springsteen's epic tune. I wanted to show Natalie the song and found this live version. It laid me on my back for a few days – hard to write songs after hearing this...warning. I also highly recommend reading the comments section.
“Music at its best...is the grand archeology into and transfiguration of our guttural cry, the great human effort to grasp in time our deepest passions and yearnings as prisoners of time. Profound music leads us--beyond language--to the dark roots of our scream and the celestial
heights of our silence. ” – Cornel West, The Cornel West Reader