Tag Archives: touring

Mother-In-Training

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I’ve been a mother-in-training my whole life.

Of course much of what I’ve learned about motherhood comes from my own mother.  (that’s her, pictured above, at my baby shower)  She is the angelic type – self-sacrificing, gentle, humble (almost to a fault) – wise and always seeking wisdom from higher sources. (She is a prayer-warrior and like me, she’s a self-professed “self-help junkie”)  She’s hacked her way through a pretty straight and upright path, which I find my own feet wanting to follow, however more clumsily and meandering.

Over the last 9 months I’ve gotten so much parenting advice from friends, family, in-laws, strangers.  Pets are like “parenting 101” and nieces/nephews are like “dress rehearsal”.  But I believe we are often taught our most important lessons in the most unexpected places – like the Karate Kid learning to wax cars.  I was talking with a friend recently about motherhood and I kept going back to this thought – there are so many things I’ve learned on tour with my band that I believe were actually disguised lessons in motherhood.

Here’s a list of some of them:

-The show must go on.  (The great cliché of a performer’s life.)  This one may be obvious, but I have truly had to power through some ridiculously difficult situations over the years– and not just get through – but put on a show regardless. I’ve had to smile and perform through physical ailments (bronchitis, strep-throat, many sinus infections, a killer hangover or two, PMS, and most recently: pregnancy), practical distractions (major sound problems, bug-swallowing, inclement weather), and the deepest kinds of challenges (emotional train-wrecks, worrisome news, and even the death of a loved-one).  Each experience gave me a glimpse into my own well to see just how deep it goes.  I have no doubt that I will have to draw deeply from this well many times as a mother and trust that I will have the resources I need to get through any trials that will inevitably come.

-Never fight in front of the audience.  Believe it or not, relationships are not always easy to manage when you’re sharing a tiny space with lots of people for long, uncomfortable periods of time, often with less then ideal sleep and nutrition.  (That actually sounds like it might have been practice for the first few weeks with a newborn!)  But whatever comes up, the rule is that arguments have to stay in the green room.  Once you hit the stage, the switches must flip to “show” mode.  I am grateful that my parents did not fight in front of my brothers and I, so I am determined to keep any grown-up disagreements back-stage as well.

Make a set list, but feel out the crowd.  When stepping onto the stage you have to have a plan, but you can’t hold too tightly too it.  A live performance is full of living, shifting energy; the dynamic of the night is unpredictable.  A performer has to be ready to add or cut songs with a swift decision and change gears based on the crowd’s reaction (or lack of reaction). It seems that planning my daily life with a babe in arms will require a similar willingness and ability to turn on a dime.  Learning to read and respond to the mood and needs of my baby will require these same skills: keen observation and quick decisions.

-Be prepared to improvise.  In general, this may be the most important lesson I’ve learned:  how to be flexible.  Growing up I was painfully shy – a Type-A planner; a classically trained, eyes-glued-to-the-music performer.  I liked rules and schedules.  While I’m no free-jazz artist now, my very nature has changed to become more liquid because of the life I have chosen. Improvisation requires you to be caught up completely in the moment, responding to the chord changes and beat, ever shifting, creating, and listening.  In the bridge of the song I wrote for my mother (Tomorrow River) I wrote: “There is a way a mother bends to take any necessary shape” – This is the flexibility that is required for motherhood. The music itself has taught me both how to trust and how to surrender.

-A smile and a dance can distract from many a mistake.  I’m talking about putting on a show – creating memories, having fun.  When you stand at the microphone you have the power to set the tone of the night.  A mother can set the mood of the whole house – good or bad.  A smile is contagious. I always have to remind myself that this is not about perfection – no one is counting the wrong notes, the missed cues, the questionable decisions.  Kids and audiences alike want to be distracted.  They want to believe in the magic of the show, the healing power of a kiss to their “boo boo” – they want to know that they are in good hands and everything will be ok.

-It takes a team.  I’ve learned to truly count on my band mates, manager, booking agency, interns, merch attendants and street teamers – not because they don’t ever let me down, but because I need them.  We need each other.  Putting together a traveling show, running a pop-up marketplace and marketing a small business is a lot of work.  I don’t know why it took me so long to learn to delegate, but I’m glad I’ve finally figured it out.  I’m glad that I am getting better at asking for help and also better at trusting people to do their jobs so I can just focus on my own.  Sometimes that means letting those tasks get accomplished with less of the finer details.  I think of parents letting their kids “help” with chores around the house, mothers letting their husbands do the laundry (at the risk of a few shrunken sweaters)  The key to this whole system working is letting go.

All of this is not to say that I feel prepared to be a mother exactly.  Though my childless days are numbered (likely down to the single-digits), I can’t help but feel that my training isn’t going to end the moment I hear my baby’s cry.   Instead, I’m certain that I have much yet to learn, and I welcome those lessons wherever they come from.

The Extreme Normal

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There is a very plain word which describes this revolutionary new system I’ve been putting into place in my life.  “Routine”.  I know – it’s not very exciting and it doesn’t really seem revolutionary at all.  The word occurred to me this morning as I was exercising. I thought “this is what normal people do all the time”.  I’ve always seen the word “routine” as a bad word – as bad as the word “normal”.  But here I am waking up at the same time every day to do my morning ritual, then scheduling my office and meal hours.  I started on March first and it’s been two weeks now.  The only one part of the daily plan that I have yet to implement is the 10pm “Relax” time.  So far I have continued working each night until I was too tired to go on any longer and then finally put myself to bed.  I think I’ll get around to the relaxing part eventually.  (maybe once taxes are done)  ImageRoutine.  There is something peaceful about it – and something maddening as well.  Surely the schedule is helping me make sense of the otherwise shapeless hours which make up my daily life.  I’m feeling a little bit more in control – and I’ve been quite productive!  Part of me wants to be constantly on the road where I have no control over the circumstances and timing, where the scenery changes each moment and there are new faces and names to learn each day.  Part of me thrives in that environment.  But there are other parts of me – parts that crave that elusive thing called “home”, parts that really want a routine, that enjoy having a little control.  I am the constant balancing act of all these parts and my pendulum has been swinging in one direction for a very long time.  Now I’m at the other extreme – the extreme called “normal” and (at least for now) I’m feeling quite at home.

Ragbirds Halloween Tour Video

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In celebration of Halloween this year, The Ragbirds played three shows in costumes that I made out of mostly recycled materials.  Drawing from childhood nostalgia, the band chose Fraggle Rock as the costume theme.  I started with a thrift store spree, buying fuzzy pillows, scarves, bathrobes, blankets and 6 baseball helmets.  Then I visited my favorite Ann Arbor craft store The Scrap Box, for fabric remnants and various details (like eyeballs, felt and yarn).  Piecing the heads together by eye, the Fraggles took shape.

I put together this video to highlight the first two weeks of our 2012 Fall Tour “The Halloween Leg”.  Enjoy!

Music Festival Breakfast Burritos

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Music Festival Breakfast Burritos

This is a very basic recipe for spreading joy.  The ingredients are cheap, the steps are simple and the rewards are many.  I spelled it out exactly the way that I do it, just to give you a glimpse into my head (and my van pantry).  Get fancy with Tofutti’s “Better Than Sour Cream” and avocado or guacamole if you want to, fancy-pants!  Make ‘em however you like – the important thing is to share!

TIP:  For best results, it’s best to start cooking at exactly 11am and not any sooner or any later.

 

Equipment needed:

Two-burner propane stove,

Cheap-ass small random saucepan with mismatched lid

$14 crepe pan

Good cast iron frying pan (bought at thrift store)

Cooler with ice (and air-tight, waterproof containers for all the ingredients inside)

Oven-mitts, can-opener, spatula, serving spoon, long-handled lighter (need I state the obvious?  When camping – YES!)

(optional: A Bloody Mary to make the work a little lighter doesn’t hurt!)

TIP: have your husband or best friend run to get you a coffee while you cook.  Then give them the fattest burrito!

Ingredients:

2 packages Simply Potatoes – Southwest Style

1 15-oz carton Egg Whites (at home I use tofu to make it vegan, but on the road eggs are easier to cook!)

A few tablespoons of butter (I label mine “Butter” because it’s actually dairy-free Earth Balance)

1 large can of refried beans

2 Tbs Nutritional Yeast

1 Tbs + 1 tsp chili powder

1 Tbs cumin

1 tsp garlic powder

salt and pepper

Shredded Cheese (optional – I leave it off of mine)

1 jar of Salsa

20 whole-grain tortillas (the kind with 8g of fiber – trust me, you will all need extra fiber at a music festival!)

Light the stove, add a few Tbs of “butter” to the cast iron pot and when melted, add as many of the potatoes as will fit.  (If they won’t all fit, cook the remainder in the crepe pan on the other burner and wait till they cook down enough to pile them together before proceeding to the next step)

Keep the flame on medium and let the potatoes cook, stirring regularly, as you open the beans and light the other burner.  Add a little salsa to the bottom of the small cheap-ass saucepan and set it over medium low heat.  Then spoon in half the beans and stir, add more salsa (about ¼ c), add the cumin and about 1 Tbs of the chili powder (not that you will be measuring, but just to give you an eyeball idea), and then add the rest of the beans, stirring constantly (because the pan sucks and it WILL burn them!)  Keep stirring the potatoes.  As soon as the beans are revealing their heat (steamy and bubbling) put the lid on and set them aside.

Now, raw eggs are not easy to travel with so recently I’ve been opting for the carton of egg whites because it’s healthier and also easier.  Place the cheap, “non-stick” (yeah, right!) crepe pan on the burner and add 1 Tbs of butter, letting it melt in the pan over medium-low heat.  When hot, open the carton and pour in the eggs.  If you’ve never used these before you will be amazed how easy it is!  Of course right about this moment you will find out if your stove is on completely level ground or not.  Add the nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and 1 tsp chili powder, plus salt & pepper to taste. (Isn’t everything “to taste”?)  Stir the eggs with the spatula and swirl the pan a bit to get the mixture to lay evenly.  Reduce the flame to low (as low as the touchy propane stove allows!) Keep stirring the potatoes!

Jostle the eggs after a few sips of your Bloody Mary and when they seem to be firming up enough to flip, cut the eggs in half with your spatula, then flip each half carefully.  The confined space of a propane camp stove is a challenge for making anything pretty – don’t try to impress friends with a good omelet-flip.  It may ruin breakfast.

How are those potatoes?  Should be done.  Now scoot them over to ¾ of the pan and turn off the heat.  Scoop up the eggs and place them on the bare ¼ of the potato pan, just to stay warm. Use the now-suddenly-available crepe pan to fry up the tortillas, one at a time (It’s really a juggling act – I’ve done it so many times now I’ve got it down!)

Here’s the trick for making the burritos come together: serve them two at a time.  Fry up both sides of one tortilla (medium heat – use non-stick spray for ease) then put another one in its place on the pan immediately.  Take the cooked tortilla and ration out a small spoonful of beans, a thin strip of eggs, a hearty helping of potatoes, salsa and cheese (if you so desire it).  Flip the tortilla on the stove.  Now wrap the newly-filled burrito slowly, tucking in the ends with respect for the fillings and roll it tightly.  Set this burrito on the pan in place of the tortilla that’s there and assemble the new burrito in the same way.  When it’s ready, add it to the pan beside the other one and announce that breakfast is served.  People will suddenly appear.  Repeat the two-by-two technique until your guests disappear, or seem to no longer be hungry.  You are now a human assembly line of joy!   I recently fed 17 people with this recipe (3 people ate small-portioned “seconds”)

PS.

1. Don’t forget to eat one yourself!

2. Make someone else clean up!!

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ROAD WARRIOR 101: Tips for Health and Happiness

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I decided to write this because many people ask me for tips and suggestions about how to stay healthy and happy on the road.  I’ve been touring in bands for almost 12 years and The Ragbirds are on the road nearly 200 days a year now and so I’ve learned a trick or two.  I’m continuously researching natural products and vocal techniques – I am my own guinea pig – so maybe you can learn from these experiments.  Keep in mind that everyone is different and some things other singers have recommended to me haven’t worked for me.  Listening to your own body is the best advice anyone can give regarding health and happiness.

HEALTH:

This is just a short list of products that you can find at any health food store (or even better – save money on Vitacost.com – see link below)  I also use a travel NETI POT daily and I keep a little 2 oz plastic travel bottle with salt water in my backpack which I use to gargle frequently.  Plus, of course, I drink lots of water! (ask my band-mates –  they get a little annoyed at the frequent pit stops, but it’s so important to stay hydrated!)  I make tea frequently so I travel with a small ELECTRONIC TEAPOT.  I also take advantage of the opportunity to hydrate my throat by putting a scarf over my head and breathing in the steam.

*Emergen-C (so convenient for travel! I take other vitamins at home, but this is the best on-the-go)

*Throat Coat Tea (I only use this when my throat is really sore, not regularly)

*Osha Root Extract (1 dropper full in a shot of water – excellent for a sore voice!)

*Tiger Balm (I massage this into my neck after lots of vocal use) Massaging the throat and stretching the jaw, neck and tongue helps your voice last longer (yawning is a good start!)

*Raw Honey (I get a thermos full of hot water at gas station stops and I add raw honey regularly to herbal tea, which I carry with me.  If I am feeling under the weather fresh ginger and lemon are added as well)

*Eco-Teas Yerba Mate – South American Tea for mental clarity and good energy  (it’s caffeinated, but better for you than coffee!) Some people don’t recommend caffeine at all because it is dehydrating, but I still rely on it for performance energy.

*Chia Seeds (these are so hydrating and packed with benefits – especially fiber, which is hard to get and extra important while traveling) I add about a tablespoon of chia seeds to my water bottle (often together with Emergen-C).  Shake immediately so they don’t clump – the seeds become a bit gelatinous, but you get used to it.

OK, so I’m also a little bit of a freak who carries her own supplement shaker to add to foods.  A mix of NUTRITIONAL YEAST and DULSE (seaweed) FLAKES add extra vitamins and minerals to quick foods that are often lacking in nutritional content – and extra flavor so I use less salt.  Maybe it’s an acquired taste – I really love adding it to eggs, potatoes, popcorn, grits, sandwiches and salads.

Some of these products may seem strange and/or expensive.  If these ideas are new to you, try them one at a time, instead of making a long shopping list.  The nutritional yeast and dulse flakes need only be used sparingly and they last such a long time.

NOTE: I don’t eat meat or dairy and that seems to work best for me, but everyone’s different.  Keeping a snack in my bag keeps me from getting mean (nuts and/or fruit usually – I love dried apricots).  I find avocado to be very soothing to my throat and stomach so I eat it whenever I can.

To exercise I have a thigh master (haha!! – I really do!!) as well as a resistance band in the van that I use to strengthen my muscles.  The aerobic activity of our live show gets my heart pumping, so I’ve found it very important to stretch before shows, just like an athlete warming up for a game.  My hubby bought me Yoga Paws for Christmas and I like that I can use them on any surface without carrying a mat with me.  I try to sneak in brisk walks, sit-ups and push-ups when I can.  It depends on if I’m waking up on the floor in a hippie house in a scary part of the city or in a suburban hotel and how tight the schedule.  Sometimes we don’t have time even for a shower!

HAPPINESS:

I always travel with a journal, a prayerbook (I love the Divine Hours) and a book of poetry (Rumi, Hafiz, Rilke’s “Book of Hours”, Leonard Cohen’s “Book of Longing”). The Ragbirds’ song “Silence is Everywhere” is about finding inner quiet even when there is noise all around.

Here’s a Travelin’ Machine TOUR VIDEO I made featuring the song “Silence is Everywhere”

Deep breathing exercises and meditative music (Bach Cello Suites and Zoe Keating‘s album “Into the Trees” are favorites on my ipod!) are small ways to escape the chaos and enter into inner silence.

LISTEN to a playlist I made on 8tracks.com

Also, I try to stay in touch with people outside of the circle I travel with every day, stay connected to family as much as possible to stay rooted, and keep it real with God.  (for me that means daily confessions and asking for guidance).  I admit I am lucky because my husband and brother travel with me!  (but that comes with its own set of challenges too!  haha!)

AT HOME: (to recover from a tour)

*Apple-Cider Vinegar and Blackstrap Molasses (I don’t travel with this because it’s messy!) – 2 Tbs of the cider vinegar (I use Bragg’s) and a drizzle of molasses in a 16-oz glass of water.  This is balancing and refreshing, plus it seems to help with sinus issues that I’ve always struggled with.

*Smoothies!!!  One of the best things about being home is that I can make them myself and not pay exorbitant prices for a healthy drink.  I like to start with kale and almond milk, blend that well, then add frozen fruit and juice.  Often I add chia seeds too!

If you decide to check out Vitacost, please register through my link so we can both get a $10 off coupon!

http://www.vitacost.com/Referee?wlsrc=rsReferral&ReferralCode=1633010

Let me know if this is helpful for you and pass it along to friends – especially those who may be touring musicians too!  Feel free to add your own suggestions and comments.

Sincerely and with much love –

Erin Zindle

@fiddlebird

A Study Of Songs – Part 1

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And so this new album project begins with a handful of songs that have been pushed out of the nest already to fly and a nest full of eggs waiting to be hatched. I’m looking down at the expanse of the road we’ve walked so far – measuring the journey.  What message have we carried?  What mood have we inspired?  How have we grown and changed along the way?

This will be the fourth collection of songs that we share with the world.  There are 35 original songs already recorded and released on The Ragbirds first 3 albums.  Then there are 8 more original songs on my new solo album (to be released soon!)  So, after 43 songs have been sung, what more do I have to say?

As touring has taken up the bulk of our time and made up the majority of our experiences in the last two years, this batch of songs seems more honed for the stage.  I’m trying to write songs to create the live show experience that I want to present – songs that fill in the holes where something seems missing in our live presentation.  And the themes are naturally inspired by our experiences traveling across this diverse country.

So the songs, in a way are catered to the party.  They are a natural expression of our daily life, which is setting up the circus tent in a different city each night and living the songs out on stage.  They are fun, lively, danceable, and diverse.  I think that since I was able to get some of my sadder and more personal songs out in my solo album, I am able to naturally express this communal, joyful side of life without feeling deprived of self-expression.

There are a few songs that explore new genres, which is always a musical adventure for us.  When I attempt to adopt a new musical style I spend a lot of time sitting with the old players of that style singing into my ears.  I learn the history and I study the form, but more importantly, I listen deeply and for a long time until it has found its way into my soul.  Only then can I truly write an original song in that style and let myself shine through.

On this new album my goal is for the band to step up the quality of every little part so that we can present a more polished sound, with tight rhythms, more harmony than ever before (and more fiddle!) We’ve had lots of studio experience now and this album should bear the evidence of all our lessons learned.

I also want to say things we haven’t said yet – to lift people’s hopes up – to make them believe in joy.  The overall vision is for listeners to experience the fun, uplifting encouraging live show that we put on nearly every night in every city we travel to.  I want to bring that happiness that I see on the audience’s faces into their cars and kitchens and living rooms.

Click here to check out the video and see how you can help make this project happen!

The Longest Tour

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Tuesday March 16th

Today we set out on a 47 day adventure which will take us around the country and to many new places.  The van is clean and organized, my voice is clear up to the highest register, my heart is light and ready to go.  I take my mini yellow highlighter and draw a line across “Max’s Place” on the tour agenda (which is three pages long), aware of all the black and white lines below it – days waiting to be lived.  We haven’t come up with a name for the tour yet.

Friday, March 19th

Predictably, Terre Haute’s St.  Patty’s Day celebration at The Verve was off the hook.  Six shots and 2 sakes later I was sucking down water to save my life.  Yesterday was sheer recovery for all of us.

St Patty's Day Shenanigans

St Patty's Day Shenanigans

The Verve

The Verve

Kind people have been giving me gifts  – an Irish man in Bloomington gave me a copper bracelet, twisted into a Celtic knot.  A girl named Plaire gave me a turquoise and coral bracelet she made to break, with a wishbone charm on it, telling me that the luck begins once the bracelet breaks.  A girl who has been bulimic for 13 years poured her heart out to me, letting me know that our music has taught her how to dance.  Another man posted a Facebook comment about the music setting him free.  All these gifts sustain me – the kindness of so many strangers fills me with joy.

Saturday, March 20th

Last night was a real victory show – so much love and enthusiasm – so many mouths singing along!  It was a free show, but The Mousetrap in Indianapolis was at full capacity.

The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap

Part of the victory is that I managed the Indiana smoke of the first three nights’ shows without losing my voice.  (well, I did lose a few notes at the top, but the rest are solid!)  Reverend Peyton gave me the best advice a little while ago for touring with healthy vocals (and he does even more shows than we do each year!)  He told me to always warm up the high register, to cut out drinking alcohol,  and to do the neti pot daily.  Staying sober and hydrated keeps me above the smoky drunken mess.  Staying focused and connected to God through my prayer book (The Divine Hours) keeps my heart smooth and peaceful, and reminds me to ask for help instead of complaining about the little (and huge) problems that come up on the road.

My longtime friend Angie gave me a sinew necklace braided with a Petoskey stone and three tan beads.  I gave her an e-clip (hair clips I make out of feathers, faux flowers and buttons) which looked like it belonged in her long curly brown hair.  I didn’t know it at the time, but I know now that I made that one for her.  Our friend Shotwell let us stay at his house with his sweet puppy pit bull and his girl Ally taught me how to hoola-hoop at 4 in the morning.

Monday, March 22nd

It’s the Spring Equinox, everything is in balance here in Kansas and we made it successfully to our first day off!  The sun is having its way with the last stubborn patches of snow.  Flocks of birds fly high above the potholes.

The Replay Lounge-  Lawrence, KS

The Replay Lounge- Lawrence, KS

After our show at the Replay Lounge in Lawrence we crashed on the floor at a house full of boys.  The walls were lined with glass tanks housing lizards and snakes of all sorts, including a boa constrictor named Ginger.  Randy, Evan and Max made friends with her, letting the 6 foot long beauty slither around their necks and shoulders.

Ginger the Snake

Ginger the Snake

Travis did a wild dance in the kitchen with a pair of spoons while boys jammed on a banjo and jaw harp.

Spoon Dance Sequence

Spoon Dance Sequence

Suddenly Max appeared with an over-sized Nixon mask on, with peace signs flaring.

Max Nixon

Max Nixon

Then Travis one-upped him!

Travis Nixon

Travis Nixon

In the midst of this chaos, I got online for a minute and looked up, out of burning curiosity, the man we had met in Indy the night before, who claimed to have been Jimi Hendrix’ guitarist.  His name is Al Young, an old black musician whose words and presence really shook and touched me.  I was so engrossed in his big, enlightened spirit as he held my hands kindly.  He said that he sees bands all the time and he doesn’t even really listen.  But he thought I was really special and he encouraged me to keep it up.  When I finally googled him last night I found out that he was the one accredited with teaching  Jimi Hendrix how to play with his teeth!

Tuesday, March 23rd

We are climbing up a mountain with all our wheels rolling upward into the dark sky, braving the snow and wind of a freak March storm.  My love is driving and all my companions are in peaceful little private worlds, sitting side by side, as if alone.  I had the worst dream last night, full of darkness, fear, penance and revenge.  I think I went to bed with a head full of horror images thanks to The Decemberists’ new album. I have a very vivid imagination and normally try to avoid horror movies, but I would never have thought a record could have the same effect.   I really let it under my skin.  I’m trying to drink my coffee and not look up at the white roads which blend right into the blustery sky.  I’m listening to soothing music and breathing and praying to God for safety.  Trusting.  Letting go of last night’s dreams and today’s fears.  It’s all I can do when I’m at the mercy of the Mother – there is no stopping or going backward.  There is no control, no work to be done, no plans to make that are not already laid before us.  I have only the things I packed.  I have only the tools I have been given, the boots on my feet, the food in the cooler and the songs on my tongue.  The moment has arrived and I am ready to let it happen.

Colorado Adventure

Colorado Adventure

Wednesday, March 24th

I really don’t mind this life at all.  Cold brown rice and half a PBJ comfort me from the snowy cold mountain air.  I woke up and wrote the beginning of a melody for 3 violins, then I got to the business of washing, packing and rushing out of the hotel room and I seem to have forgotten it.   I grieve every time that happens, but I feel that if I’m meant to write it, I will eventually remember, so I pray for the tune to come back.  I’m aching for some alone time with my songs and instruments all around me.  I wish I could eventually invest in a little recording station to take on the road with me.  I’ve been dreaming up a new show lately and writing many songs.

Snow Ball Fight

Snow Ball Fight

Thursday, March 25th

And so I woke in the grip of the shadow that is the curse of Eve.  Tangible, palpable gloom soaked me through as sudden as a bucket of water thrown on me.  I asked the Lord to hide me in the shadow of his wing until I am myself again.  I love that imagery and often find myself begging to be hidden there, when I don’t want to face the world, or when I feel there are men glaring at me with evil intentions.  It is a prayer that I cling to – I think of it as my “cloak of invisibility” prayer.  So I stuff my ears with the music of wise women and glue my eyes to the blank page and write, stroking my heart like a wounded kitten.  This feeling will pass, like all feelings do.  In the meanwhile we play Steamboat Springs tonight.

E's new Feathers

E's new Feathers

Monday March 29th

On Palm Sunday I had feathers woven into my hair by a fairy girl named Ysabel Blu.  She told me that having a bird’s energy near your head chakra keeps you light and free.  Every time I look in the mirror and remember my new feathers I feel so happy – like more of my true self is shining through.  It was so fortunate and random that I met the only girl who does “Feather Luxe” and that she could squeeze in an appointment with me on the only day I happened to be in town. (Boulder, CO).  We had an overly-packed show at Mountain Sun Brewery and it was the most exciting finale to our 6-show Colorado run.

Pockets and  Evan

Pockets and Evan

We stayed with our Michigan friends Pockets and Cole, and they let me use their tiny apartment kitchen to cook food for the next few days.  Lentil tabbouli, Pintos and rice, Potato Salad and all sorts of sandwich supplies got packed into waterproof tupperware and stacked into our giant cooler.  Sometimes when little fights come up, my dark animal bares her teeth and scares me a little.  I have to admit that I have a violent nature when left unchecked.  Without God I am not a good person.  My skin gets so thin – I swear I can see veins in my face.  My filter melts every time my blood gets hot.  But with meditative prayer, yoga, deep breathing and focusing on the positive in every situation I get that beast under control and become my true self again.

The front range of the mountains are clear and stoic as we drive out and away from Colorado. It reminds me that God will not be moved.  When I am a raging with emotions like lava, God remains at peace, like these mountains.  None of my little storms can shake Him, my rock, my foundation.

Tuesday, March 30th

I am back to center again and Cecelia (the van) is back to health after a brief stint at Dr. Mechanics’ office this morning.  We are so blessed and fortunate to break down in the middle of Kansas in a town with a cheap hotel and a kind (and thorough) mechanic.  For less than $400 we are back to rolling with a new alternator, and it’s early enough in the day that we can drive the many miles to get to Little Rock, Arkansas.  I pinned my hair up in pig buns and worked the feathers loose so they dance in the wind blowing through the open windows.

Cecelia in the Mountains

Cecelia in the Mountains

After a cheering conversation with our booking agent Joe, I can see that the Lord is blessing the work of our hands (and wheels).  Music is medicine and God is the Great Physician.  I am just a vial to deliver the dosage.  I hardly even know what it is I am carrying or how it works.  But everywhere we go I see its power and strangers report to me the results, bearing witness to God’s great love and mercy (whether they know it or not).  I have been writing worship songs lately out of a desire to give back an offering of my gifts to God.

Sunday April 4th

It’s Easter Sunday and I’m wearing a bright yellow wrist band from the Keel Family Function on one arm and a bracelet of peace (another gift) on the other.  I praise God today that I am full of life and health as I remember the Passion of Christ (I’m not talking about the movie).  I painted the hard boiled eggs in our cooler with markers for everyone to share. (Not that it has anything to do with the Passion of Christ part!)

Easter Eggs

Easter Eggs

The Georgia sunshine illuminates my mind as I remember all the joy of yesterday.  Larry Keel, Jeff Mosier, Colonel Bruce Hampton, Charlie Wooton, Duayne Trucks, Donna Hopkins, Grayson Capps, Guthrie Trapp, Caroline Pond, and Zebulon Bowls are just some of the amazing musicians that I met, shared a stage with and  got to know through the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time.  Also music promoters and tapers and fans from all the southern cities that we are about to be playing in including Z-Man, T-Dawg, Pete Sobel and so many who hugged me, shook my hand and welcomed me into this new sweet Southern family!  I am trying to hold it all in my heart as we drive away.  I’m praying that all of these seeds that have been planted today will be watered and continue to grow into lasting connections and that our touring efforts will meet continued success.

Colonel Bruce said that success = showing up.  He once said that if he had 3 terrible shows in a row, he would quit.  He also said the same if he had three amazing shows in a row.  “Musicians are mentally insane by the time they reach my age”, he said (he’s 62).  “Instead of throwing me in an institution they put me on stage and pay me!” He said that he never knows what will happen when he steps onto the stage – it’s completely out of his control.   I think it’s the emotional roller coaster ride of performing that drives so many musicians to drugs, alcoholism and all sorts of  insanity.  It’s also just the lifestyle of the road.  It’s hard.  Really hard.  And it’s understandable to seek out comfort wherever it can be found.  The old mechanic that fixed our trailer wheel two days ago was commenting about how many bands there are now a days and he said he thinks it’s because it’s easy.  I told him that’s not the case, but I could never convince him.  Everyone thinks this life is easy.  Fun all the time with perks on the side.  Colonel Bruce knows the game and throughout our long and rich conversation he emphasized the point so many times.  This life is hard.  He really was so sweet to me, full of many compliments, encouragement and advice.  “Just keep showing up and eventually you’ll get there!”

Getting There

Getting There

Skills

Standard

Unique Skills I Have Developed On The Road:

1.) The ability to play the violin, sing into the microphone and at the same time, without losing rhythm, kick the hand of the drunk schmuck that’s reaching to grab my tambourine off the stage.

2.) The skill of completely changing my clothes underneath the clothes I’m already wearing without showing an inch of inappropriate skin. (comes in handy when traveling in a van with 5 boys)

3.) The art of food preparation in the back of a moving vehicle, serving six people and cleaning up without a trace or a spill. (well, mostly!)

4.) (Also while in a moving vehicle) – the ability to style my hair and apply makeup, attach flowers, feathers and accessorize with matching shoes & jewelry while warming up my voice simultaneously in the nick of time to pull up to the door of the venue and step out in full regalia.

5.) Good (well, mostly good!) van penmanship!

6.) Nesting skills – I have decorated, organized & trouble-shooted every inch of our home on the road, including hooks for hanging hats, pockets for stashing scissors and medicine, baskets for silverware and bug spray, etc.  (even building a rock garden or picking wildflower bouquets when we are camping!)

7.) I’ve spent countless hours of travel time practicing conversational Japanese (which may or may not ever come in handy, but it’s become an addiction of mine and it keeps my mind busy!)

8.) (This one was tough for me and took a long time to learn):  The ability to clearly (and at times physically) deflect the advances and inappropriate comments of drunken men.

9.) A choreographed combination of dance, deep breathing, yoga and prayer designed to be done in the smallest little private space I can carve out for myself  (bar backrooms, between beds in a hotel room, backstage closets, even – yes, if need be! – bathroom stalls – but without the deep breathing!)

10.) The ability to sleep just about anywhere under almost any conditions. (this is crucial to road life! – I’ve slept on floors under tables while a party raged all around me!) – note: I do have a “Zen” ipod playlist which helps tremendously with this effort!

11.) (This still surprises me every time):  The ability to smile through it even when I’m feeling  the worst of what awful can be – and conversely to let the reflection of that smile on the faces of the audience heal me.

12.) The hard-earned hope (and I truly believe that hope is a skill!) to keep moving bravely into each day even when I’m broke, exhausted, over-worked and underpaid – believing steadfastly that there are better things ahead.

Important Skills That I’m (Slowly!) Improving On:

1.) Name Recall

2.) Stand-up comedy (well, sometimes, my between-song banter is a little bit funny! – ok maybe not!)

3.) Timing the encore gracefully.

4.) Spinning without getting my violin cord tangled around my legs.

5.) Holding my tongue in public ( I am almost ALWAYS in public) so as to keep band (and marriage) tensions private.

6.) Patience

7.) Peeing on the side of the road without getting any on my shoes.

8.) Telephone interviews and radio shows upon just waking.

Desirable Skills I have YET To Attain:

1.) Direction sense.

2.) Sewing my own clothes. (I have so many ideas!)

3.) Memory for dates, times, details.

4.) Driving the van and trailer.

5.) Passing out fliers.  (I am super shy when it comes to approaching strangers!)

6.) Keeping up with my phone.  (Sorry if I didn’t return your call!!!!)

7.) Packing light.

8.) Whistling. (Drives my dad crazy because he really should be a professional whistler and he wonders how it is so hard for me!)

9.) Rolling my “r”s.  (I think this is related to not being able to whistle!)

10.) Swimming in deep water. (I panic as soon as I know I can’t reach the bottom!)

There are many more, but these are just a few off the top of  my mind that I wish I could do. . .

10,000 Lakes (or ‘How Cecelia Lost An Eye’)

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We were within 60 miles of the festival and Tim was driving when he noticed that Cecelia (our veggie-oil-powered Ford Diesel van) was running rough.  The pressure gauge on the clean tank was too high and he stopped so we could change the clean tank filter.

This is after 10 hours of numb-headed driving.  This is Day Four of Randy’s non-stop fever (including Wednesday when our friend Griffin had to play drums in his place for the show in Marquette, MI) and he had been sweating on my lap the whole time with a red Rothbury handkerchief full of ice on his forehead.

With the new clean filter and the heat of the humid lingering night the oil pumped faster than normal and soon I noticed a heat and smell that was strange and strong.  I looked into the back of the van and sure enough, the tank had overflowed, splattering our instrument cases with vegetable oil.

We pulled over on the side of the road and began pulling everything out, mopping it all off with paper towels and sopping the leak up with yesterday’s newspaper.  Just then it started to rain.  We raced to get the stuff back in the can and jumped back in to drive the rest of the way to 10,000 Lakes Music Festival.  We were completely spent before we even arrived.

We pulled into the fest around 1:30 am and the gatekeeper couldn’t find our credentials so we just set up tents and put ourselves to bed for a few hours before waking to face the hot busy day.

The Everyone Orchestra

Friday morning we scraped together some sense of decency, combed our greasy hair into place, medicated with caffeine and pain relievers, checked Randy’s temp (which was finally back to normal!) and headed to the Field Stage.  There we met Matt Butler (our conductor) from Hot Buttered Rum, Steve Kimmock and his son, Reese and Trevor from Tea Leaf Green, Dominick from Big Gigantic, and Ryan from Fat Maw Rooney.  This was the Everyone Orchestra and it began without sound check or explanation, just a drum beat and a cue card which said, “Legato Marching Tempo”.

Throughout the hour and a half performance, Matt continued to hold up signs, jump, point, wave his arms wildly and lead the crowd in chants, sing-alongs and rhythms.  Signs said things like “Chaos for 8 bars”, “Up a 1/2 Step!”, ‘HOOK” (which means create a melody everyone can join in on), “Blow Heads Off!”, “Trade Solos”,  “f@%^ IT UP!”, and my favorite: “Chunk” (whatever that means!)

About mid-way through the set, during one of my frantic “Disco in A”  solos, Matt held up a sign that  that said “Follow Erin Wherever She Goes!  Sure enough, on the count of four, everyone dropped out.  I kept my bow moving like I was steering a boat around an iceberg, and led them (however awkwardly) into a 2-step in G.  The drummer had let me know clearly before the show how much he hates two-steps, ad I didn’t really mean to go there, but it was my natural instinct in a moment of near panic.

The experience overall was exactly like my first skiing experience. My boyfriend took me on the big hill after only one tumbly run down the bunnyhill. Somehow, without the skills to stop or even turn very well, I made it to the bottom.  I couldn’t say that it wasn’t fun – exhilarating even! – and I was quite proud of myself just for doing it.  But this is the stuff of nightmares to be truthful.  Unstoppable momentum that I can’t control or predict; new skills that I have to master in public with everyone around watching and depending on me – the speed!  the terror!

Really, I can’t wait to do it again!  I smiled and danced and didn’t hit a tree and I made it to the bottom with a big “Ta-Dah!!” and the audience cheered.  But as soon as I could break away I hid in the van and cried.  There was no escaping the heat or the depth of my fatigue after four nights of nursing my poor hubby with very little sleep and there was only a few hours before I had to be bright and shiny again for The Ragbirds performance on the Saloon Stage.

The Ragbirds show was easy.  I t was on my own terms – my own songs – and the crowd was thick and enthusiastic.  It was over so fast and after the mad rush at the merch table I stumbled back to the van – our home-sweet-home.  I crashed hard and fast once I got the van windows lined with blankets and a little nest of a bed made up on the seats.

Saturday’s Best Laid Plans

Randy and I had planned to sit in with Mark Murphy (of WookieFoot) for his acoustic set on the campground stage in the afternoon and then gather everyone and drive part way home. It’s a fourteen hour drive from Detroit Lakes, MN to home and we wanted to break it up into two manageable chunks.  The show with Mark was improvisational with just a three minute talk through, but it was so much easier for me than the Everyone Orchestra was because the tunes were familiar and there was so much love on and around that stage.  Plus it helped that I had gotten at least a little sleep.  In some ways this felt redemptive.

After the show we picked up our merchandise, said goodbye to our friends and headed off towards home.  Less than ten miles from the fest, we were going about 65 MPH on Hwy 10 when a deer ran out from the tall grass on the roadside, colliding with the van head on.  The airbag went off in a cloud of smoke, bruising Randy’s arm, but still he guided Cecelia to the shoulder where we stepped out into a nightmare of bugs, knee high grass and a smashed mess of metal, glass, blood and guts (just the deer’s! – we were all ok!) I was overcome with emotion and I fell into the ditch crying hysterically.  It was too much for me! (even though I knew, even then, that there is no such thing.)  I was being eaten alive by bugs.  They were stuck to the tears on my face.  None of us could think clearly.

The Rescue!

The police and tow truck arrived immediately and we were rushed into a series of difficult decisions.  It was pretty clear that we were lucky to be alive.  With the tow truck driver watching, saying “tick-tock”,  I chose the things I would carry with me to survive for the next unknown amount of time, knowing that at least for the night, we would be camping.

We called all of our friends back at the festival and one by one their voicemails lined up to take our message, until finally a cheerful real live voice answered “Jo Jo Ho and a bottle of Rum!”  – It was Jo Jo from WookieFoot and he immediately got help on the wires and activated the crew to pick us up.

Mark Murphy called when he got our message and said “Well, there must be some reason God wants you to stay!” From that moment on I began looking for the reason.

Searching for The Reason

When Rick came to pick us up in his big clean van I realized that in my haste I had only changed one of my shoes and was wearing a mismatched pair.  We packed our gear and suitcases into the van and chatted while we were taxied back to the festival grounds.  I gave Rick a copy of our CD and he put it right in and started right into raving about how much he liked it.

We pulled up at the fest and were unloading our gear on the side of the road when JO JO pulled up in his flower-and-prayer-flag decorated golf cart with big hugs and free beer for us.  He took Randy and I on his ride to “Gramma’s” trailer (Gramma is a tall skinny blond man named James who runs WookeFoot’s merch and is a major player on their team.)  Once inside he pulled out this beautiful mysterious earthen jar, intricately carved with lions and symbols, corked with a thick wooden lid.  He explained how he and Mark had made this Moonshine five years ago and buried it in the ground at Harmony Park, and how they unearthed it this year in ritualistic fashion.  “This is serious family stuff right here” he said as he uncorked it and passed it first to me.  It was rich with ginger and herbs – a delicious burn that felt like magic.  (Maybe this is why we are here –  I thought.)

After a second sip we got back into the golf cart and Jo Jo drove us wildly through the crowds of people to the stage where Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings were playing.  Along the way he told us that Rick, our van/taxi driver, is a valuable contract and programming director  for Clear Channel.  (Again I thought – Maybe this is why we are here – just to pass our CD along to someone who just might happened to be “the right hands”)

We pulled closer to the mad funky sound of the Dap Kings and Sharon Jones put me under her spell.  The beer and moonshine were flowing in me and I began to dance, thinking ‘maybe this is why we are here’ – to loosen up – to relax, to have fun and just dance!

Randy held me close and told me how much he loves me and misses having time to just hang out with me.  We walked hand in hand together to get some food, smooching and being sweet and all the while I was thinking “maybe this is why we are here” – just to reconnect and have time together. The weather was perfect and we shared some Chinese food together on a picnic bench laughing about the day and telling stories, trying not to think about poor Cecelia.

The Musical Golf Cart Parade

A little while later Jo Jo called to invite us to meet him nearby to be a part of a parade.  We rushed over to where the golf carts were lined up and two guys (Josh and Charles) showed up with dununs and two extra djembes (one that was small and light – the perfect size for me!).  We donned our drums and hopped into a golf cart, all four of us drummers, with a pink gorilla driving and a dreadlocked glitter fairy in the passenger seat.  A bagpiper started the drone and the parade took off.  A long line of golf carts full of freaks and hippies began a slow procession through crowds of onlookers. We drummed as we rolled through a long lit tunnel, up and down hills, surrounded by strangers with glow sticks, glowing toys and masks.  A unicycle paced us on our right and a dancing sprightly man with a cowbell played along on the right.  Every time we stopped, we gathered into a circle around fire spinners and dancers and provided the beat, then jumped back into our carts and the parade rolled on.

At the second stop we gathered in a circle again and Jo Jo hushed the crowd.  He said “Everyone!  I want you to know that there is a band here called The Ragbirds. . . ” (people cheered) “They crashed into a deer on the way out of here!” (a collective “oh No!”) “. . . and now they’re here leading the drum circle!” (another loud cheer!)

We were having such fun – this colorful, juggling, hugging family picked us up, took care of our needs, eased our minds, entertained us, included us, blessed us, cheered for us and we were overwhelmed with gratitude. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was why we were here.

At the third and final stop we got out and gathered in a tent full of glow-in-the-dark pillows and mushrooms, paintings of trees and flowers, a man playing piano, two glowing aliens and more fire spinners.  Mark Murphy led a drunken chorus of Irish drinking songs and the bagpiper (Patrick) let me sip some Wild Turkey.  I kept showing people my mismatched shoes for a good laugh here and there.  We stayed up most of the night and danced our way into sleep.

The WookieFoot Family

Sunday morning we woke with headaches – desperate for water, sweating in the hot sun, hungry, confused, exhausted.  We walked into the festival grounds, but all the vendors had packed up shop.  We had no food, no water, no means to get around and no idea what to do.  So we called Gramma.  He brought us to WookieFoot’s camp where we were showered with gifts.  One woman brought peaches and plums and a case of water.  Another gave us Vitamin Water and paper towels.  A photographer from Ohio named Itamar brought us cherries and let us look at his festival photos in the shade while we waited for Vito to cook a “Dirty Bastard Wootang Pancake Breakfast”.  They played Wootang Clan loudly on a nearby car stereo with the doors open and offered us pancakes & agave, Tofurkey sausages and omelets.  We ate with our fingers and I fashioned a tin can into a cup for coffee.  We met so many kind people in the sunlight of that campsite and our family suddenly seemed that much bigger. (is this why we are here?)

Then Rod Volker rolled up in his golf cart, shouting “Where’s The Ragbirds?!”  and he put his arms out to hug us.  He’s something like the production manager of 10,000 Lakes – top of the chain – and he was here to help (is this why we are here?)

We packed up camp and ate fruit in the shade of the canopy that our neighbors left behind, sitting on the partly broken chairs that Evan “groundscored” while we waited for Rod to come back in a van and take us to our hotel.  He arrived with a friend and we gave them each a copy of our CD as they drove us into town.

Paper Bird and the Kind Mechanic

I picked up a dice game called “Farkel” and some snacks at the gas station next to the hotel and when I came out there was a familiar bus at the gas pump filling up.  It was Paper Bird’s funky painted (andveggie-oil converted) schoolbus!  I ran over and introduced myself and we exchanged CDs. We learned that they are from Denver and that they travel with 9 people and 3 little dogs in an amazing home on wheels.  Their bus had hard wood floors, hanging plants, maps, photos and all kinds of hard-earned road decor.  It was so fun to meet them and chat, I couldn’t help but think ‘is this why we are here?’.

We went back to the hotel and zoned out to the t.v., rolling dice till we all fell asleep.  The next day the mechanic fixed our functional problems, brought the van over to our hotel and handed us the keys – free of charge!  We picked up the trailer from the tow yard and headed home, never the worse for wear.

Cecelia passed the test – the trial by fire – and proved herself road-worthy.  She is a little uglier now – half her face demolished and her right eye gauged out – but she brought us back to our doorstep safely.   And with a little help from friends and strangers, we discovered the real reason we had to suffer this small catastrophe: to live and be grateful to have survived – and to learn to accept the mercy and blessings of God through the hands of men.