Friday, August 31, 2007

Resolution is Overrated

Thirteen years ago tomorrow, my life changed forever. I became a mom. My time for myself, and my days so neatly ordered to my liking suddenly became a thing of the past as my body literally was given over to producing, presenting, and feeding this little amazing thing. Said little amazing thing, Son of Mando, is now taller than I am.

When he was little, and even before he was born, I used to be such a closure person. Now I'm so busy half the time I can't remember to eat my lunch, which is what happened today. I literally forgot to eat and when at 4:00 I wondered why I was so damn hungry, it dawned on me.

When I say I really don't have time for something, I really don't have time. I defer a lot of responsibility these days, not just because I finally realized not everything is my responsibility, but because I refuse to get less than 6 hours of sleep a night unless it is absolutely unavoidable. I have to function at a pretty high level from sunup to sundown. I know it's nearly impossible to imagine, but most of the people I talk to all day are smarter than I am, and keeping up or staying ahead of them and then coming home to focus on my kids or my other obligations and do all that well takes adequate sleep. I know that some folks have to operate pretty regularly on little rest but it makes life a lot harder for them. People who brag about their ability to operate on no sleep scare me, sort of like the poor woman on our street who took out our mailbox one morning after a 36-hour shift. It could have been a kid, or an animal. So these days, if something is unresolved at the end of the day in my own quiet life, it just stays unresolved.

"Unresolved" is a way of life, really. There is not, as some may believe, a single right answer to everything in our lives. Being human is not a mathematical equation. There are lots of solutions to a single question. Now I see that this is part of the beauty of living. Many circumstances weave an unfinished tapestry or carry a melody into an unfinished third movement. There are many things we will never know.

I used to be frustrated by not having an ending, happy or un, to certain things. Certainly where work is concerned, I resolve as many things as I can. I'm helping a good friend right now reach resolution on a significant career move. But many things don't really have an ending, and often not the endings we'd wish.

At the beginning of the year I resolved to try two things: help grow the business I work for, and become a better musician. Both are happening, but these goals too are evolutionary, and not finite. Living is continuous, an action, a constantly changing state in which we try to stabilize ourselves, our dreams, our loves, our desires. Kind of silly, really, to think we are ever "done" with some aspect of living or "complete" in some way. Life is in constant forward motion.

So tomorrow, my firstborn will be thirteen years old. I am so proud of him. He's not crazy about change but he is so bright and smart, snarky and creative. And he's learning to roll with the punches since mom isn't able to block them all.

Here is a tune for the moment from my most raved about recording these last few weeks, The Infamous Stringdusters' Fork in the Road cd. I love this tune because it is so positive and upbeat, looking forward into the unknown instead of back over one's shoulder. It's the only way to meet the future -- with a smile, an extended open hand, hope, and slightly cautious optimism.

The Stringdusters will be in Bowling Green next weekend but I have a feeling the kids and I will skip the 4-hour round trip with the array of other things going on. However the Dusters absolutely are a must-see when you can. I'll be catching them next month at the IBMA World of Bluegrass Fan Fest and hope to see you there.

No Resolution

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friends With My Grey Hair

Well that was quite a little whirlwind there, now. I'm back, having gotten our new school season schedule down for the most part, and suffering through a few continuing work-related sagas.

I'm sorry to talk shop here, but, a bit of free advertising: if anyone knows great fundraisers who love classical music, have closed seven-figure gifts, and want to live in Sunny California, please email me at If I don't find someone soon, I've pledged to go out to Santa Ana and stand in the middle of The 1 to stop traffic until someone volunteers for what is essentially the best fundraising job in the orchestra business. Help.

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, I want to share a bit of learning from last week. It was heartening to see the groundswell of support for not censoring myself. I promise not to do it again. Look, this is an editorial adventure, a journalistic vehicle and creative playground. I have not broken any rules of law and don't intend to.

But I realized, in my offline life, sometimes I do still censor myself.

I, friends, color my hair.

Yes, it's true. I have the face of a young person, and a head of hair befitting someone twenty years my senior. I haven't figured out a slick way to tie it all together because I'd look ridiculous with grey hair. I think even X would attest to this. He used to carry around my baby picture and my senior college portrait side by side in his wallet. He would show people, "Look. No difference." He's right. I'm not Emmylou Harris. I'm this person with really prematurely grey hair, and I cover it up, because it looks silly.

So is that censoring myself? I think perhaps I'm worrying a little too much about this.

So let's turn to Christine Lavin, who very nearly always has the answers.

Ipsissimus, you with me?

The kids and I were on our way home from an errand Saturday night when we heard this gem on Jim Blum's folk show on WKSU radio. Let me be clear: Christine Lavin, though petite and guitar-wielding, is a force to be reckoned with if you like to laugh and enjoy a really clever song. She is smart, really smart, and just one of the best songwriters I know. She's not bluegrass, but, she often has just the perspective needed at a certain point in time.

And so it is with this tune, Gonna Make Friends With My Grey Hair. My hair is starting to call to me. Last week at an orientation session for my daughter's school, I made a comment about one of the PTO moms, who had this terrific, gracefully graying hair. She looked hip and approachable. Her grey hair suited her perfectly. Me, I'm not so sure.

So I'll take it slow, and upon the advisement of my hairstylist who I hope to see again this Friday, begin to discuss The Graceful Greying of MandoMama.

After all, I've earned the grey hairs on my head. My hair has been through a divorce, the lost of both parents, two miscarriages, a job change or two, motherhood (on Saturday I officially become the mother of a teenage boy), and home ownership as a single person. Some days I get a call from an orchestra president before I've had time to take my first sip of coffee.

Isn't it time I acted my experience?

Friends With My Grey Hair

(Note: Treat yourself to a buffet of Lavin's gracious humor and good songs here. DO NOT MISS "SENSITIVE NEW AGE GUYS." )

Saturday, August 25, 2007

You Say Tomato, I Blog Tomahto. Who Cares?!

You know, the thing about blogging is that you're out there. Everything you choose to write about, the way things affect your life or your opinions or experiences, it's all out there. That's why they call it a Weblog. It's like an online diary. Some of it is focused in topic areas like this one generally is, and others are deeply personal.

This is of course not without risk. I've been taken to task a number of times since launching FTLOB for anything from how little I know about coal mining (give me strength, my back 20 acres was strip-mined) to how I misrepresent various players or other people or events. Alternatively I have sometimes received a gracious note from readers who had personal experiences with the subject matter or even from musicians or their associates, and those unexpected moments make up for the rest.

The one downside of a blog is that, with little exception, it's a one-way street. Hundreds of readers stop by every week and don't comment, but it's not a requirement. Some of those folks are friends of mine, and we have a two-way relationship that sometimes includes dialog off line about my blog. Other than that and the two hundred or so other visitors who are led here because of a relevant bluegrass search term, there are a tiny number of people interacting with other members of my family who come to check up on me, and rather than send an email and start a conversation, or take me up on an invitation for coffee, continue to hide. If you're looking for clues, here's one: the best way to get to know a person is to get to know them. Do you think you know Tom Friedman because you read the New York Times?

I have made a few friends in the process of this blog and am happy for that. I also came close once to losing a very good friend over this blog. It was the one time I made a significant editorial change, and I will always regret it a little because it had to do with something deeply important to me and millions of other people. But in the end it taught me how tricky an editorial existence can be. I wanted desperately to write about an issue that to me was real and important, but my friend was successful in persuading me to believe in the perceived series of consequences my friend felt certain would follow posting the piece.

I've since accepted that I have pretty limited responsibility (read: none) for my friends' relationships, the way they live their lives, or what they tell other people about me. Consequently I have a hard time buying that, other than rushing out ot get the latest Stringdusters release or downloading a song, someone reading this blog is going to alter their behavior or relationships because of something I wrote. Hell, if I had that kind of influence, by now the war would be over, every child would be a wanted child, we'd all have decent health care and housing, fuel efficiency in cars would be at an all-time high, and the Bush administration would just be a bad memory.

Maybe this is similar to the position in which a music critic might find himself or herself, writing about an off performance and hurting a few feelings of friends in the ensemble. The review is about what he or she heard during the performance, whether the entrances were off or the third movement lacked a certain expected energy or a soloist was too mechanical. That's what they heard. There might be a few single ticket buyers who take a pass, but it's not going to sway season ticket holders, the true loyal die-hards who think for themselves.

Like writing a review, blogging is all about the experience. I am trying to teach my children the value of live music. Each performance is unique; a player has one shot at that particular moment of delivering the goods. You can listen to the same Mozart concerto on a CD over and over and the soloist will deliver the same performance again and again. But whether its Mitsuko Uchida with the Cleveland Orchestra at Severance Hall or Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer with the Nashville Chamber Orchestra at the new and beautiful Schermerhorn, the musicians in a concert setting will deliver a unique live music experience that will never, ever be repeated.

Likewise, once you've made your series of choices and taken a certain action, you can't take it back, and whatever impression it leaves is the one it leaves. It's like saying something you can't take back. Imagine Yo-Yo Ma grimacing at a conductor over a cue or Doyle Lawson forgetting to introduce Jamie Dailey because he's mad at him. It ain't likely gonna happen -- especially since Jamie left the band, darn it -- but if it did, you wouldn't forget it.

Sometimes those experiences become stories. One part of my story, a recurring theme, has worn itself out, kind of like that old chestnut Orange Blossom Special or Saruman's theme in Howard Shore's LOTR score. Just today, a very good friend shared with me a terrific article that essentially deconstructed the value of retelling the same story over and over. An excerpt goes like this:

It's good to know that all of your stories were created by some life event (big or small) that actually happened. Then, the mind/ego assigned a specific positive or negative meaning to these events. We invite you to notice this week which stories you tend to repeat to people. Are they positive or negative stories? Who would you be without these stories?

It was thoughtful and well-timed. It really asks a good question. I realized everyone is pretty sick of my story, including me. The characters are dull and refuse to change. Same story line, same dialogue, same ending every time. Not worth retelling at all.

I am grateful, really grateful for having turned a page and seeing what really matters: the future.

Turn the Page Again

December nights come early, wait a while to see the light again
A question left unanswered, sent out on the evening wind
If winter is a stranger, maybe spring will be my friend
Seasons change, turn the page again

Summer days are longer, I'm still waiting for your call
Left hanging like a promise, like summer leaves the fall
Sometimes she's a stranger, sometimes she's my friend
But people change, turn the page again

The car is packed and runnin', my heart is racin' fast
Kiss you just one more time and hope it's not my last
The past will be a stranger, the future is my new friend
So let it change, turn the page again

I'm soaring like an eagle, I'll find a place to land
I'll let the west wind take me, see what he has planned
My home is in my heart now, or any place I stand

I'll go where I'm a stranger, I'm gonna try to be a friend
I'm not afraid to turn the page again
If winter was a stranger, maybe spring will be my friend
Seasons change, turn the page again

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Fork in the Road

Is your suitcase packed for your next adventure?

Know which way to go?

Have your ticket to the promised land?

Me neither, but, that's ok. The latest release from those incredible young dudes The Infamous Stringdusters arrived on my doorstep this week and so it's all good, real good.

Last night I had dinner with a friend who is chewing on his resume and wondering what's next. I don't mind coaching my friends a little. For once I feel like I have a set of skills that is actually useful to the people in my life. This person has a long history of steady work in complex organizations. But when you want to reinvent yourself, how do you do it?

That's a good question. I've been working on it for a while now. I feel I'm closer than I was a year ago, but not close enough to leap.

Every now and then we find ourselves at the fork in the road. Sometimes we're on multiple journeys and come to a very forked road all at once. It can be a little daunting and sometimes choosing the path that looks right, or feels right, doesn't lead to the destination you'd hoped. The land of milk and honey can turn sour right quick when the thunder comes.

At one point I was certain that I had to move South. Have you seen the temperatures there lately? Nashville City Schools finally went to a half-day schedule this week, after kids and drivers endured 120+ temps on the school buses last week. Needless to say, it's just about as tropical right now in Ohio as it is on a cool 90 degree day in Tennessee or North Carolina. I'm not much motivated to tune up the skis left to me by my friend Souncreative who skipped town and is officially a happy Southehn magnolia now (with just two sets of skis).

On the other hand, it's really not just about the weather, it's about being closer to people who value what I value and who work in it every day. So maybe the trick is to find an environment like that, one that provides fodder for my passion and enough variety to hold my interest like the job I have now, but within a single institution. There are a few things that come to mind. The question is when, and for whom.

Exciting, but, scary.

I don't mind the fork in the road. Despite whining about change, I fairly like it. Well, I should say, I wouldn't like it every other day, but I like it enough to feel excited by the challenge and the perspective it occasionally brings.

But I respect that not everybody likes change. I have very good, very close friends who abhor it, and it's likely they find me odd and amusing but they put up with my boundless enthusiasm and vigor anyway.

I get through change like most everything else, with music. Fork in the Road is the title track from this Stringdusters effort, which everyone reading this blog should have. It is really a signature recording -- exquisite instrumental, a great mix of songs, lots of harmonic and instrumentation surprises (these guys are clever musicians and not hacks), seamless vocals. Pick it up, or just pick up a few tunes like this title track (not my favorite but certainly worth a listen). Listening will give you something to do while you're deciding what to do next.

Fork in the Road

If it's taking you a really long time to decide, try this incredible final track, a killer jam in the time honored Newgrass tradition:

Moon Man

If you still can't figure out where to go next, how about Nashville October 5-6-7 for IBMA's World of Bluegrass FanFest? Catch the lineup here. More to come on that real soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Surprise, Surprise, Sunny Skies

Today was a big day for myself and my two closest companions, Right and Left. I had my first mammogram. Slam-o-Gram. Whamo-Gram.

Frankly, it was not the nightmare I had been prepared to expect. It was uncomfortable but not excruciating, owing I suppose to the fact that I don’t have too much to work with and, after nearly a combined five years of breastfeeding, what I have is pretty malleable. The experience also was made quite a bit easier by a very skilled and personable technician who kept me informed about what was happening.

She opened the exam with a little speech about surprises. “Let me just tell you. There are lots of great surprises, like diamonds or a vacation, or flowers, or, you know, when you find a little extra cash in your checking account. This is not that kind of surprise.” It was clever and I felt more than prepared for the next 15 minutes.

Yesterday brought another surprise – well, it wasn’t all that surprising, more like a warning shot about a looming serious change in the lives of my kids. It’s the kind of surprise that either can turn out, as I hope, really well, or...not. I guess that's where the surprise comes in.

Life is full of surprises, in fact it's really all about surprises, good and less good. I've gotten kind of comfortable anticipating "surprises" and mitigating or maximizing their impact, depending on the type of surprise, thanks to a little too much practice and a job that has more than fine-tuned my instincts.

But you can't prepare for everything. Last week a colleague and I got one of the worst surprises I can remember in my professional life. We placed a call to a candidate we had been expecting to hear from, and learned that, during the course of a routine biopsy this person had contracted a staph infection and was now fighting for life. It was a stunning piece of news that left us both in tears and a general state of disbelief. The patient is one of the world’s most revered professionals in the classical music field, deeply talented if a little rough around the edges. That’s the bad kind of surprise. I’d have a mammogram every day for the next month if it meant this person would suddenly be well and walk out of the hospital.

The trick to dealing with surprises is to befriend reason. In any highly emotionally charged situation the risk of doing foolish things is alive and well. We all have the capacity to stand outside the situation, examine it as though we were looking on it as strangers to the participants, and see the circumstances through a new and dazzling prism that refract our behaviors and biases so that we can see them for what they really might be. Suddenly we are opened to a new world of possibility, opportunity, and intelligent action. We may not always act with intelligence but the opportunity is always there, as it is with kindness and discretion.

In short, there are no surprises. Just, reactions to them.

I hope my two friends who went along with me today aren’t holding any surprises to report. And I hope that whatever surprises you face this week are the good kind, and if they're not, that you find what you need to get through it.

Here's a helping hand. The jazzy piano solo that backs up Warren, Ohio native and dobro master Jerry Douglas on this version of James Taylor's sweet, skippy tune, "Sunny Skies," from Jerry's 1987 release, Everything Is Gonna Work Out Fine, came as a really pleasant surprise to me. I was grooving on the way home this evening to Jerry, whom I just adore, and found this treasure while looking around. Take this tune with you and it's no surprise you'll find it easier to get through just about anything.

Sunny Skies

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Time for School, Time to Soar

Tomorrow begins the new school year in our family. I can't say I'm not ready, but, it did come up awfully fast. And we seem to be among school districts one of those returning earliest. Summer is officially over.

And, it went out with a rainstorm today. I was hoping to catch a little spare time with my daughter while her brother golfed with dad, but alas, the weather interfered with my hopes. So I made the best of the time and got quite a lot done.

I also enjoyed the opportunity to slow things down a bit these last couple of days, and do a few things just for me. Yesterday I spent visiting with two different friends, and had a great meal and a late night practice session which was unexpected but badly needed and great fun. It was refreshing to pick up my old friend Mando. Today, with the weather not in my favor, I set to work a project I'd promised I'd help with for one of my volunteer gigs, ventured south to a whole foods market where one of my favorite bands, The Rhondas, was playing, came home and made myself a really nice healthy meal, caught up on all my laundry, read for more than five consecutive minutes, played that tune I learned last night, and even took a little nap.

Something about the day felt a little selfish, somehow, and a teensy bit sad. Not having the kids around should be an opportunity to really push myself, and I did, although not nearly as hard as I could have. I am thinking of them and their excitement (and probably some dread) as tomorrow looms. I'm thinking about the new sneakers my giddy daughter told me about (thank Shiva someone else finally took her shoe shopping) and how my son noted that this year marks the eighth for his book back (LL Bean rocks). I'm thinking of how they'll be doing respectively at 6:30 and 8:30 when school rolls around for each of them. I'm even thinking I'm glad that X gets to enjoy the first day, and that he did a lot to get them ready this year.

Next week I will get to experience a few firsts as my son grabs the bus at the bottom of the hill at 6:25, and my daughter gets to introduce me to her new latchkey teachers. Tomorrow there will be paperwork and juggling and in just a few short weeks back to high gear homework mode. The excitement will have waned and reality will set in.

But it's another year for all of us to grow and learn. We never really stop, but when school is in session there are always new opportunities and challenges. Keeping an open mind, open, heart, and open eyes is the best way to get through.

This Nickel Creek favorite goes out to my son and daughter, and everyone who's going back to school this week with hopes in their hearts and their hearts in their mouths watching their children grow up, up, and away.

When You Come Back Down

You got to leave me now, you got to go alone

You got to chase a dream, one that's all your own
Before it slips away
When you're flyin' high, take my heart along
I'll be the harmony to every lonely song
That you learn to play

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down

I'll keep lookin' up, awaitin' your return
My greatest fear will be that you will crash and burn
And I won't feel your fire
I'll be the other hand that always holds the line
Connectin' in between your sweet heart and mine
I'm strung out on that wire

And I'll be on the other end,
To hear you when you call
Angel, you were born to fly,
If you get too high
I'll catch you when you fall
I'll catch you when you fall

[Bridge:]Your memory's the sunshine every new day brings
I know the sky is calling Angel, let me help you with your wings

When you're soarin' through the air
I'll be your solid ground
Take every chance you dare
I'll still be there
When you come back down
Take every chance you dare, I'll still be there
When you come back down
When you come back down

Friday, August 17, 2007

Family History

The Midnight Ride of William Dawes
I am a wandering, bitter shade,
Never of me was a hero made;
Poets have never sung my praise,
Nobody crowned my brow with bays;
And if you ask me the fatal cause,
I answer only, "My name was Dawes"

'Tis all very well for the children to hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere;
But why should my name be quite forgot,
Who rode as boldly and well, God wot?
Why should I ask? The reason is clear --
My name was Dawes and his Revere.

When the lights from the old North Church flashed out,
Paul Revere was waiting about,
But I was already on my way.
The shadows of night fell cold and
As I rode, with never a break or a pause;
But what was the use, when my name was Dawes!

History rings with his silvery name;
Closed to me are the portals of fame.
Had he been Dawes and I Revere,
No one had heard of him, I fear.
No one has heard of me because
He was Revere and I was Dawes.

One of my contacts for a project I'm working on was delighted to direct me to this poem written by a woman named Helen Moore in 1896. Evidently, were it not for one of my alleged ancestors, we might still be British citizens.

The tie-in comes because of a little-known Patriot tanner from Boston named William Dawes, who was recruited by Dr. Joseph Warren for a very important errand. Dawes was to work collaboratively with that towering figure of American History and fine silver, Paul Revere, to ride one fateful night not, in fact, to warn all of New England that the British were coming, but instead to warn John Hancock and Sam Adams that the British were coming for them.

For most of my life, I took William Dawes to be something of a mythological figure like the many my parents made up over the years (they were old, how else were they supposed to have fun?). Then a few years ago a friend read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, in which Gladwell asserts that Dawes really kind of blew it by making less of his part of the famous ride. Dawes reached fewer townsfolk, but as it turns out, that wasn't his objective. His objective was to get to Hancock and Adams before the Redcoats did. In which case, he was by all accounts, a success.

I've never seen a picture of old Bill Dawes until I sat down to create this blog post. Readers who knew or who have seen pictures of my father will in fact note a rather eerie resemblance.

It's a long way from being a Boston merchant in 1775 to a Martins Ferry businessman in 1975. My dad was still around to celebrate the US Bicentennial, but a year later, on the a morning of first snow just a few days after my mother's birthday in November 1977, he died of a heart attack in the first-floor bathroom of our old Quaker built farmhouse. He was 57 years old.

Needless to say there's a lot of family history that my sister and brothers and I have unraveled since that day and again since Mother died coming up on five years ago this November. So to stumble across this piece of American history and imagine that maybe, just maybe there's a bit of that Patriot's blood running through my kids' veins was a bit of a bright spot for us.

My brothers and I and our families took the opportunity a couple of years ago to see Tim O'Brien at the Kent Stage. We'd all become Tim fans, particularly since he also hails from our WV panhandle stomping grounds. This tune is full of the bold irreverance we all indulge in occasionally in order to survive the shadowy side of our families. Hope you'll enjoy one called "Family History." If mine comes back to haunt properly, maybe my daughter really does have a shot at being President of the United States and not just a wandering bitter shade like her mother.

(As a side note, William Dawes' great-great grandson, Charles Gates Dawes, who served as a rather outspoken Vice President of the United States under Calvin Coolidge, also was a bit of a musician, having written the clever love song, "In the Game." A rather towering figure, he also bears an uncanny resemblence to my late grandfather. Spooky.)

Family History
by Tim O'Brien, recorded on Traveler (2003)

Family history, I don't know too much, family history, I don't keep in touch
With my mother and father quite like I want to do
There's some family history, I'd rather not go lookin' through

Family history will repeat, look through your history, you're sure to meet
Someone a walkin' much the same pathway as you
It's just family history, like it or not you're passin' through

Family bible, dates and names, faces in pictures look much the same
Like you're runnin' in circles, until you don't know where it ends
Can't know where you're goin' until you know just where you've been

What's with my uncle, I want to know, we never see him whenever we go
To some family reunion, no one dares to say his name
It's against the rules in our secret family history game

Family history, need to learn, lest old troubles will return
Come back and haunt you, you'll hear them rattle their chain
You'd better break it, it might just drag you down again

Family history seems like fate, but you can break it, it's not too late
To ask a few questions, it's time to face up to your fear
Because it lies there waitin', it's comin' back again next year

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Duhk Duhk Goosebumps

There's got to be a better way to end summer than by having four teeth pulled and then braces put on. But that's how Son of Mando is spending these latest few weeks. He had two uppers yanked Saturday, and tomorrow it's two lowers, which he emphasized will be really great since it's the lower jaw that does all the work of chewing.

I'm pretty bummed for him, but he's got the kind of snarky sense of humor that not only does me proud but serves him well. He's a great kid, a little dark and sensitive like his mama, but knows how to have a good time, too despite the less than ideal circumstances of the human condition in which we often find ourselves.

To that end we're going to have a good time with the Duhks when they pass through Kent in just a few weeks. They're just so much fun, and damn fine musicians. We were listening to this tune, Down To The River, the other day and just dancing like goofballs around our little home. You can't not feel good when listening to these kids from Manitoba. They'll be at The Kent Stage on Friday, September 7, just a few days into Son of Mando's teenhood. That's something to celebrate, a milestone for both of us.

Give me strength. I am the mother of a teenager.

Down to the River

Monday, August 13, 2007

With Strategery Like This...

Well, if you saw the news this morning about Dubya’s beloved friend, Turd Blossom, you can’t even begin to imagine the glee with which I began my day. I pinched myself. Nope, I’m awake. Then I checked the calendar. It’s neither April 1 nor December 25. To what do we owe this sweet deliverance?

I’m sure, however, that like most things, it will be rather short-lived. Before too long, Rove will be off to provide insightful strategery to some other conservative dope who can’t think for himself. That’s the stickler: Rove is smart enough to prey on people too tired, too dumb, or too busy to do their own strategery. He’s a really scary dude because for all the things he’s not, like kind or compassionate, he’s very, very smart, and evil. Really evil.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the dumb ones from the smart ones. I have learned one thing: the smart ones never underestimate you. The dumb ones always do.

How dumb do you really think I am, 98.17.10#? Or is that, 98.17.12.#? Oh, wait, that was LAST week’s hidden proxy.

I’ve had several friends who’ve chosen to block their blogs and make them password protected because they’ve been stalked by real and virtual losers, and that’s a shame because these writers have a lot to offer. I have enormous respect for their reasons for doing so, but I’m not going to deny access to anyone who comes by looking for lyrics or artist info just because I have a coward or two lurking around my site to see what little details they can pick up to throw back at me later.

Down the road the nature and presentation of this particular site will morph and shift into a higher gear, ideally with additional contributors who represent the near and far reaches of the work undertaken in support of bluegrass and traditional music. I’m guilty of ranting about my personal life on here, and I’m bound to do it again on occasion, but I finally realized that overall it’s a tremendous waste of time, energy, opportunity, content, and my talent. (And my timing on this epiphany appears to be excellent since, according to this article which oddly enough appeared in today’s edition of MSNBC,, I’m boring you all to death, making you and myself miserable, and getting nowhere.) Except for my kids, there’s precious little I love more than music, and I intend to give it whatever I can. As I confided to one of my good friends, if I spent as much energy on music as I have on the junk in my life, by now I’d probably be running one of the organizations I’ve been writing about, or even one I’d started myself.

Which leads me to one last story that even my closest companions may not have heard. One day, after I had done everything I felt I could or should do to save my marriage (short of getting implants the size of my head), my ex looked at me and said, “You know, if you leave, you’ll never achieve your dream.” (A propos the difference between smart and dumb, I was standing at the counter at the time, with a knife in my hand, chopping vegetables for his dinner.) What a nice parting shot. Not, “How can we fix this?” Or, “Let’s get away for a couple of days and figure things out.” Just a big, fat, ugly, back-in-my-lap threat.

Given the glimpse I’ve had of just how much I could accomplish by leaving that kind of crap by the side of the road, and instead paying more attention to the support and encouragement I’m getting from the right places, it was an empty one, too. Time for new strategery!

Not too long ago I was in a store with my daughter, and I heard a familiar tune in an unfamiliar voice. Like the weirdo I am, I said aloud, “Hey, that’s a Jerry Salley song!” But it was, a terrific song called “I’m Gonna Take That Mountain”. It's sung here by one of my favorites, Reba McIntyre, but there's nothing like hearing the guy who wrote it. You can catch a snippet of Jerry and friends here. And I'm gonna send it out to a couple of friends I know are dealing with the great wall of unknown. Just take that mountain, bring it to you, it's just a big pile of rocks you can break down one stone at a time.

I'm Gonna Take That Mountain

I was born a stubborn soul
Ain’t afraid of the great unknown
Or a winding road that’s all uphill
This is just a stumbling block
Intimidating wall of rock
If you think this broken heart will break my will

I’m gonna take that mountain
Ain’t nothing gonna slow me down
And there ain’t no way around it
Gonna leave it level with the ground
Ain’t just gonna cross it, climb it, fight it
I’m gonna take that mountain

It’s overwhelming looking up
I know when it’s the challenge of -
Me against this heartache to survive
I may slip and I may fall
But even if I have to crawl
I’ll break through to the healing side

I’m gonna take that mountain
Ain’t nothing gonna slow me down
And there ain’t no way around it
Gonna leave it level with the ground

Ain’t just gonna cross it, climb it, fight it
I’m gonna take that mountain
Ain’t nothing gonna slow me down
And there ain’t no way around it
Gonna leave it level with the ground
Ain’t just gonna cross it, climb it, fight it
I’m gonna take that mountain

I was born a stubborn soul
This is a stumbling block
I’m gonna take that mountain

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Circle Game

What a weekend. I'm exhausted! It's like we tried to pack every bit of summer into the last two days.

Aside of MandoSon having two teeth extracted (in preparation for braces) bright and early Saturday morning, we've been, well, partying, for the most part. Daughter of Mando turned 7 earlier this week, and so of course, the best thing to do when you've decided not to have a party is to spend the entire week celebrating! Yesterday we had family and friends; today she got a surprise party at a stuff-your-own-favorite-friend kind of place. Add in a couple trips to the pool and a few spur of the moment playdates, and, well, let's just say everyone's ready for bed at 9:30 on a Sunday night.

But I know these days are on the wane. Not only are there just a few days of summer left before school starts, there are only a few short years before my children likely stop wishing to have anything to do with me in public. Funny how it used to be the other way around; I so distinctly remember having to leave a special Good Friday dinner at a restaurant that my three-year-old son did not find all that engaging.

Where did the time go? It's frightening. I find myself bracing for adolescence all over again with my oldest, and trying to get the last bit of baby-ness out of my youngest, who at seven is so observant, creative, and blatantly and hilariously honest that it sometimes knocks the breath out of me.

I don't think I have ever gotten all the way through Joni Mitchell's Circle Game, ever, without crying. It is the perfect song for days like this, spent with my two beautiful babies who are doing a beautiful job of growing day after day after day, year after year. I can't live their lives for them, or protect them from everything, or teach them every lesson. That's what will happen to them as life unfolds. All I really can do is love them completely and unconditionally and assure them that I always will, while we listen to the sounds of the summer night, watch bats fly over head, and try to catch the last few fireflies of the season.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

And then, it dawned on me

Maybe location is irrelevant.

Maybe leading thought doesn’t require a front porch.

Maybe ideas will travel farther if they don’t require packing.

Maybe they won’t come just because we build it in Virginia, or Kentucky, or North Carolina.
There is bluegrass music, and people who care about it, all over the world.

We’re all busy playing it, promoting it, learning it, listening to it, dragging our friends out to hear it. And yet being here in the ‘sphere is like all 120 million of us sharing an office, or a dinner table, or a picking circle. If we wanted to, we could make the best use of all our great ideas, high hopes, and best intentions without ever having to change out of our jammies.

As I’ve mentioned here recently, I’ve been enjoying some of the good work being done in the classical music industry blogosphere. From musicians to critics to administrators, people all over the world are connecting and dealing with serious issues affecting the music industry. Of course there is a different sense of purpose. Where two or three bluegrass musicians are gathered in Bill's name, there's bound to be a little pickin' going on. But I've never been to a festival or in a parking lot and watched a 35-person chamber orchestra just -- "poof" -- materialize and start jamming on their favorite Bartok. Maybe the degree to which the classical industry pursues its online community seems more vital because the risk of orchestras disappearing over time, with no place to play -- or, more likely, fewer and fewer live listeners to play to -- seems more real. But I've been to the Kent Stage when there were maybe only two dozen other people there to see a show and have worried that a few too many shows like that and there won't be a Kent Stage anymore.

Yet with the possible exception of collective bargaining, I can't really think of an issue that doesn't also affect bluegrass musicians. There is always something to talk about in terms of refining a technique, recording, sound mixing for bad spaces, working with venues, audience development, bookings, sales, education, songwriting -- you name it.

And we don't have to be together on a hill or in a barn to talk about those things. We don't have to wait until someone else builds anything. Even though nothing can replace the electricity of interacting and playing together, maybe we don't have to wait for those moments few and far between. Maybe the best place to work together to address future of the music we love isn’t just in Nashville or Asheville or any town in between.

Maybe, it’s right here.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Study War No More

Tonight I hung out with myself and took in the Ollabelle show at Nighttown. The evening overall was a bit of a pleasant surprise, with a packed house, not too too much of an idea of what to expect, and the company of good strangers.

I hadn't heard Ollabelle live before. This is a passionate and very talented bunch of young musicians. You can sample a number of their tunes on their MySpace page here.

They ended their first set with this old tune from their latest release, Riverside Battle Songs, taking the entire performance to a new level. I found Riverside a really timely song for a number of reasons, none of which I'm going to talk about here, of course. I'll merely say I send it out to all my good friends and special family.

See you down by the riverside someday soon.

STEVE MARTIN BANJO UPDATE courtesy of Texas Oasis' Blueberry

Catch the Steve Martin spot again this Wednesay:

David Letterman
Wednesday, August 8
Original Airdate: 4/26/07
David Cota & AJ the Parakeet, Tony Trischka with Steve Martin & Bela Fleck (CD, "Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular")

Thanks, Blueberry!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Kicking Off My Cruel Shoes

I really have found myself missing my mother lately. Partly because a mother's wisdom is always reassuring. And, partly because she was a good shot.

She also happened to be one of the few people who early on loved Steve Martin not just because he was funny, but because he's a helluva banjo player.

In this vid, he's up here with some totally serious banjo badasses, Tony Trishka and Bela Fleck -- well, excuuuuuuse me.

Just listen to that picking. It's full of good old fashioned honest joy.

That's what I wish for myself, for my family, and for you.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

At This Rate, I'll Never Be Drew McManus


Aw, c'mon. I'm fairly certain that some readers who stop by here today will recognize the name Drew McManus as the author of the daily dose of bloggery for orchestra wonks, Adaptistration.

Interestingly, today Mr. McManus ran an article about a service that can estimate just how much your blog is worth. (Adaptistration is worth just under $43k. Dag, that's not bad.) I refrained from commenting that, of late, I probably should be paying people to read my blog rather than vice versa. But I was afraid someone might visit my blog and read my sad little personal story.

For the Love of Bluegrass is quite conflicted. It's conflicted about the music. It's conflicted about the content. It periodically goes through these unsettling little identity crises over which music it's writing about and for whom.

I find myself spending more time every day at Websites like Adaptistration and, and last week I stumbled across Jim Hirsch's wonderful Chicago Classical Music. (Mr. Hirsch, currently Executive Director of the Chicago Sinfonietta, was at one point for nearly 20 years, the director of the much-revered Old Town School of Folk Music.)

All music is suffering the effects of many ills -- the economy, the proliferation of unauthorized recordings, a massive downgrade in concert attendance, and a shrinking audience overall. The blogs mentioned above and quite a few more like them provide musicians and their close companions (administrators, producers, presenters, publishers, recording labels) with information and opinion that encourage conversation and therefore help drive a sense of real community -- as much as can exist online, anyway.

That's really what I should be doing, in addition to doing it in real time as well.

It's time to take a breath and get back to that. Summer has been long and fairly exhausting in some ways, far too short in others. I did not make the strides I'd hoped in my playing or in writing, and I did not feel like I had a real summer with my kids; although my children and I did enjoy a few adventures, my son was gone two weeks plus when he would otherwise have been here, and I'm really missing him.

Plainly put, I've been too damn whiny. So this weekend will be about a break with that stuff, visiting with friends, spending some quality time alone and with fiddle in hand, and perhaps an evening at Blossom with Schubert and Mozart under the baton of renowned conductor and good human being Jahja Ling. I'll mark my daughter's seventh birthday (seven years and I still feel wistful over that funny spot on my old bedroom floor where her water broke). A concert by Ollabelle next week at Cleveland Heights' Nighttown will help get me back in the swing as well.

Thanks meanwhile for stopping by and wading through the baloney to hear a tune or give a new band a look-see. Have a fabulous weekend -- let me know what your live music diet holds!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

That was then.....

This used to be me. Spinning a plate for every person I was expected to please. Playing the role of wife, mother, lover, volunteer, sometime wage earner, chief cook and bottle washer, milkmaid, chief of procurement, director of special events, chief learning officer…..the list continues.

Through it all, I was expected to do it all perfectly and with a smile plastered on my face.

Downsizing was the surprise of my life.

Never mind that it was painful enough to imagine the familiar phrase, “Don’t let the screen door hit you on your way out.” As miserable as I felt having let down my children and my family, and feeling that I had failed, I stuck with myself and learned that, by golly, it wasn’t all me.

Someone close to me once suggested that once I had kids, I was all about them. Well, dag, Bubba, of course I am all about them – I didn’t expect that they would raise themselves. I was also not the only adult in the household who had the capacity to figure out how to make a dinner reservation or hire a babysitter. Our marriage counselor gave him homework once to set up a date. He never did it, and we never went back. I never knew why that happened, but learning that the person I was sharing my life with wasn’t really interested really was kind of the last straw in the eye. All the plates kind of came crashing down, but once I picked up the pieces and threw them out, I was able to start unlearning some of the things and habits that had helped lead to the bad things during that time in my life.

But first, I had to be even more of an idiot. The first person with whom I had a serious relationship after my marriage really was not much different. His expectations for my perfection were, in fact, even greater. The criticism was even more stinging in many ways, because I had a genuine connection with this person on a greater number of levels, particularly where music was concerned. The whole point of leaving my marriage was that I had given up my authenticity and that ultimately it wouldn’t be too much longer before any sense of self vanished completely. This person was not helping. I got tired of trying over and over to be what this person wanted too, and I learned recently that he still harbors a great deal of anger over the fact that I didn’t take him back a third time so he could -- what? Break my heart again? Even I'm not that stupid.

Now, I never said I was perfect. I am a very emotional person, passionate, direct, sarcastic, and unfortunately, smart. I do realize there are two sides to every story.

This blog happens to be about mine.

If you have a problem with that, just -- as my dear Shameless often says --

Now. Here's another tune I've been trying to learn. It's a bit all-too hidden quality of my own. Working on something a bit above my level, while careful not to develop too many bad habits, reminds me that it's not good to underestimate myself. And that's a waste of time since there are so many other people doing that for me. I've always thought this tune was a bit jaunty for the name, "Booth Shot Lincoln", but it's a wonderful tune nonetheless. Two versions I am using to learn it are one by Marcus Martin recorded by Alan Lomax in 196something (Mr. Martin just called it "Booth",), and by my favorite trad girls, Uncle Earl, on their album before last, She Waits for Night. This is their version here. It's got 'tude, you know? Like me. And the B part really sings on the high notes -- I mean, when real fiddlers play it the way I will someday.