good morning ~
(click the link / final resting place to listen)
today's track sounds very lonely to me - piano and looped voice captured on cassette tape
it has been a few weeks! really found it impossible to get back in the swing after the heart melting experience that was my month away playing music with international strangers. I am glad to be back in your inbox and I hope you are doing well.
tomorrow is once again Bandcamp Friday and it will be the last day you can grab this serene 7am live set by me, John Thayer, Elori Saxl, and Matt Evans. We'll take it down over the weekend, probably. All proceeds benefit the Pacific Birth Collective helping with the important project of recovery following the Maui wildfire.
At the end of my time away we gather in one big circle in the hotel's rarely used conference room. We settle into the stain-proof carpet with pillows brought down from our rooms and wait our now customary half-an-hour for people to arrive: musicians are always late and we've spent the last five days in New Orleans, folks are partied out. Plus, the lobby bar has run out of coffee and you can see the heartbreak fresh in everyone's face as they come into the room.
Much of our time together was spent circling up, revealing. When I first arrived in Florida it felt like we were spending much more time stretching, doing breathing exercises, and playing get-to-know-you games than making any actual music. We were constantly criss-cross applesauce and my legs were constantly falling asleep, meanwhile my guitar stayed in its case. Often I thought: I am too old for this. At times I envied the folks with a smoking habit: they had a great excuse to stand up and be outside for five minutes every half hour. But there'd be these little flickers. We'd be going around the room, all 30 people contributing some introductory silly little dance move, and beyond the exhaustion of the exercise somebody would say or do something profound. A glimpse of who they really are or how they view the world or what they're really capable of, a glint of realizing. In this instance this person would be known. And you simply cannot help but want to be known, also. And it is through this circled-up, grade school silliness where the bond began to grab us.
Eventually we played music, together, yes, and this feeling of knowing and being known ballooned. Here, Ben, bring your guitar into this ensemble - we all wanted to play with you. These kind, interesting people who came so far, secured visas to wiggle air in your nation, who are speaking your language. What could be a better thing to hear?
I've often had the realization - sometimes in mourning and sometimes in joy - that playing music is hanging out. You and your buddies create a world and then summon the listeners to it, suck them through the portal. You're among our camaraderie and this is what it sounds like.
This felt particularly true during our last show on my last night in Louisiana. There was a delirious giddiness backstage that reminded me of high school yearbook signings or cathartic cast parties. Everyone dressed up in their sickest outfit taking selfies and videos together to remember each other by, the order of the show's sets duct taped to the door. It literally was a signing: Moses undid the strings on one of his talking drums and asked everyone to write their name in sharpie, what greater honor? He also gifted me a special hat to wear which I did quite proudly, it remains beloved on top of my dresser. When it came time to begin our portion of the concert everyone spontaneously joined the percussion procession: no particular plan and not enough instruments to go around, most of us took to clapping and hooting and bellowing out the punchlines to inside jokes. Was it quote unquote good music? Probably not. But were the gathered folks excited and delighted?
And of course the show ran too long, we had to cut a couple numbers. Because there was too much on offer, the cup overflowed. When have you ever left a good experience thinking to yourself, yes, I've had exactly enough?
I will admit that I peeled off for what Lu would call "a crazy side mission." I know a few people in town, a lot of them were going to be at a show nearby, and though I tried to get the cohort to join me there, I ended up zipping over on an e-bike alone. Those who know me and my psyche well will know how true of a dream this was for me: when I got to the front of the crowd, the drummer announced audibly from the stage, "oh hey, Ben is here!" and everyone turned toward me to smile and wave. And still I left the bar early to once again circle up with my buddies on the sidewalk outside a shitty bar, talking about nothing in particular and hugging each other a lot.
And so our energy is real low for the final reflection. Shara's already left so first we watch a video of her appearing as the most hungover person in the world gingerly bidding us goodbye, talking quietly into her headphones from the gate at the airport. One by one, bodies to the carpet, we attempt to summarize or congratulate or apologize or commemorate. There are tears and giggles and I don't remember what I contribute, exactly. Max, so beautifully goofy and animated most of the time, reverently describes the surreal feeling of the full moon's light on his skin following the hours-long drone workshop I led back in our second week together. He will always remember it, he says, and this is the reflection that stays with me the most. Before I can hear what everyone has to say my ride to the airport pulls up to the Hampton Inn. I have to leave, I croak, and before I can protest I am enveloped in a 30-person-deep group hug. On the way out of the conference room I am hugged by every individual, as well, a blur.
Back at home, deeply relieved to be among my other belongings but still struggling with the quiet and the lack of pleasant daily run-ins - how sweet to say what's up to 12 comrades every time you hit the powdered egg bar at the hotel? Ever wise, my sweetie tells me that I'm buddy sour. Something from her riding days, it describes the uneasy feeling that horses get when they get pastured away from their neighbors.
On the way to the airport, I am already crying in the backseat when Jess sends me actual devastating video of the conference room group hug. Oh, so this is proof, I say to myself.
But what about you? Are you circling up? What does your community of friends sound like? Who's beside you out in the pasture?