the generous road
Strangers are, in fact, strange.
Imagine a hoodlum—not scary as such, but certainly not bathed, and apparently living out of a beat-up Taurus wagon. As this car parks in front of your house (somewhere in the mid-west, or perhaps southern east coast) it becomes apparent that its interior landscape may have escaped from an episode of Hoarders. The hoodlum exits the car and enters your home, armed with boxes, overflowing tote bags, guitars, and then proceeds to set up shop (literally) in your living room.
And the strangest part: from this weird beginning, often follows one of the most life-affirming scenarios. That great old DIY tradition, the acoustic house show.
Yes, the hoodlum (me) sounds strange, but I think the hosts I meet are even more so. The generosity I encounter daily on the road is downright incomprehensible.
When I quit my day job, I envisioned booking a tour at all the most 'legit' venues in all the cities I could find. After toiling for months as my own booking agent, I ended up playing in gardens, garages, theaters, warehouses, bars, and living rooms all over America. And I learned something about 'legit' venues: if the stadium show comes, sure I'll take it, but it will probably not be as life-affirming as a living room full of attentive strangers.
For this summer's tour, I didn't even try to book anything that wasn't a house show. Generous folks everywhere hosted us, and filled their houses with audiences of additional generous folks. This time I had Kathy (a far less hirsute hoodlum) traveling with me. And we would sing to these folks, and eat things from grills, and talk about the funny things and the important things. Almost every day this summer strangers across the USA became a little less strange.
In Knoxville, TN, our paths crossed with Anna Vogelzang, fellow singer, idealist, glutton-for-punishment-at-the-hands-of-her-own-musical-ambitions. Like so many of us, Anna does all her own stunts, fulfilling the role of record label, manager, agent, and publicist (to name a few). And we talked about how hard it is sometimes, how despite the herculean reinventions of the wheel DIY musicians accomplish each year, we can still be left feeling illegitimate.
It's funny because from my perspective, Anna is as legit as they come. She's been at this whole thing far longer than I have, touring constantly for years, several albums recorded, one of the best voices you'll ever hear, making a living sharing the songs she loves, and wearing great boots all the while.
But it's true. There is this fear—-perhaps it's a fear of not gaining recognition, of never playing stadiums, of always having to rely on the generous hospitality of strangers. I've heard it at some point from every single independent musician I know. Our talk was good and sad and real.
Afterward we sat in the living room, surrounded by people we had never met, people who had made us sangria and offered us a place to sleep, and we all took turns sharing songs. Some lovely, heavy air had rolled down from the Smokey Mountains with the rain, almost midnight early July, hardwood floors; we breathed it in and sang it out, and for a while thoughts of legitimacy and illegitimacy were replaced again by the strange comfort of this arduous, generous road.