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Mantra-Pop Still Life by Robin Renee 2006 (harmonium, candles, meditation cushion, and boots)

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I’ve been telling myself this for a while now, and I’ve started to say it out loud. In terms that sound like what a visual artist might use, I have to say this is my post-kirtan period. In the past, I’ve called my music Bohemian-Glam, and more recently, Mantra-Pop. I guess in a way all those terms remain part of what I do since all that I’ve done will inform what comes next. There’s something that also appeals to me about the manufactured nature of any terms to describe music; they can point to a combination of sound and concept, at best, but you really get to make it up. Maybe I’ll declare “Post-Kirtan” a sound all its own.

This acknowledgment is showing up at a time that in my personal life I am actually coming back to yoga and chant music after a time of separation from most everything to do with it. Staying away was necessary for some shifting relationship self-preservation for a while, but I am glad to reclaim those practices that work for me now, in earnest. I am humbled to hear from so many people about how the work I’ve done with kirtan has had a positive effect. I won’t forget that. I am listening to mantra as I write this.

What I’ve known for a while, though, is that what feels like the peak time in my life to focus on chant, at least in terms of performance and recording, has passed. I have slowly been getting comfortable with this, and talked about it somewhat on the Positive Energy TV show in the summer. That doesn’t mean I won’t facilitate kirtan and other contemplative practices in public spaces at times. In fact, I just booked a concert and kirtan event for April 16th in Plainsboro. It doesn’t mean I won’t record kirtan if it arises again, or sing with the Kosmic Kirtan Posse, if asked. What it does mean is that I’m acknowledging how much I’ve missed being the full-on singer/songwriter, how necessary that path is for me, and it’s the path I set myself back on now. This is the path where the healing and power seem to occur most naturally for me.

It has been mildly traumatic finding the confidence to write again in the way I know I can, and focusing back on club gigs and beyond feels daunting. How did I lose that trail for so long? At least I have some sense of what’s worked before, what definitely didn’t, and some ideas about where I’d like to go. It’s time to ring in the new!

This Friday, I’m doing a two-set café show with Jessica Floresta on vocals and viola. It is a small gig in a very familiar place. I will be very happy to perform there, and I hope you’ll join us if you can. Each bit I do to prepare for it feels like a little triumph; a lessening of the distance between myself and where I need to be.

Come see us Friday, December 4th at grooveground, 647 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ, 8pm.

BB King Reflections

Back in the early 2000’s, I wrote for several different Central Jersey newspapers. It was never a style of writing that I loved exactly, but I learned I was pretty good at finding the formula and building what was needed. One of the best things about this kind of freelance work was discovering I could request interviews with all kinds of amazing, well-known people. Within a few days I could be in the midst of a great conversation with someone I admired all my life. I would sometimes suggest writing about shows I knew of and had a personal interest in covering, but just as often I’d pick up assignments. I felt blessed – and quite a bit nervous – when I was given the opportunity to interview B. B. King.

He was coming to The New Brunswick State Theatre, The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank, and The State Theater in Easton, PA in January 2004. We had a brief phone conversation and I captured the quotes I needed to construct a few paragraphs and let readers know he was coming to town. At the show in New Brunswick, what I remember most is how little I was able to say to him in person. I am not generally starstruck, but then again, here was a legend beyond legends. What could I really say? I remember talking to a few of his band members and being impressed by how crisply they were dressed and how they referred to him solely as Mr. King. When I got through the meet-and-greet line I shook his hand and let him know I was the one who spoke to him for the show preview. He smiled and said he’d been curious to meet me. I got a quick autograph, then realized I was without words. I slipped back into the room and just observed for a little while before leaving. I’ve come to remember this show in a way similar to how I recall seeing Ravi Shankar perform in Philadelphia. In each case it was incredibly moving and mostly beyond descriptive language to hear and witness an absolute master.

Here is some of what I wrote by way of announcing the shows in 2004:

On the cover of his latest studio CD, “Reflections,” B. B. King, with eyes closed, looks absorbed in sweet concentration, like a man offering a loving prayer, or an artist fully consumed by the music we will find therein. Yet, the 78-year-old guitar pioneer thinks of himself in simpler terms. “I’m kind of what you call a country boy. I was born and raised on the plantation,” he says of his origins in Itta Bena, Mississippi. 

A simple country boy, perhaps, but with a difference: He can play the guitar like nobody’s business. He sings with deep conviction that retains that hint of hurt and grit that only authentic blues can deliver. The “King of the Blues” will rule the land Tuesday at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, and at Easton PA’s State Theater on Thursday.

“Everybody has, believe it or not, a soul, and everybody feels something… I play things that I feel and enjoy doing,” he reveals during a telephone interview before a concert in Quebec City. 

Revered by rock favorites like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, his profound influence on the face of music across genres and decades continues. In 1948 he left farm work for Memphis, Tennessee, and he had his first hits, “Three O’Clock Blues” and “She’s Dynamite,” by 1951. His signature song, “The Thrill Is Gone” scored his first Grammy in 1970. King paired with Clapton on “Riding with the King” in 2000, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

King recalls the making of “Reflections,” his 32nd album. “I think we got some pretty good work on it. I don’t think I’ve ever made a perfect CD,” he says modestly.

I am even more astounded by his humility today than I was then.  This quote is so startling:

“I always find faults in nearly everything I’ve done, but still people seem to give me compliments…and I accept that. I think the people’s judgment is much better than mine.”

I don’t believe it was false humility. I do hope he ultimately knew and truly experienced his own brilliance and the joyful sounds he brought the world.

Rest well, Mr. King.

Robin Renée @ Studio 11, Cleveland, OH 8-29-10 photo by Frank Barnett

I’ve been getting ready for a show this Saturday at The Soma Center in Highland Park, NJ, very much in my old stomping grounds near Rutgers University. I really like how Jessica sounds on vocals and viola. I think we have a good combo in sound and personality. This past Friday we played a mini house concert that served as a good dressed rehearsal for this weekend’s show. I didn’t feel quite ready to play one of the songs from the new material I’ve been writing, but I definitely want to get “Everybody Does the Best They Can” on Saturday’s playlist. Songs always feel like works in progress for a while after I start letting them out into the world, anyway. I do think they have to be let out in order to grow into their strongest form. Saturday will be a 2-for-1; after the concert will be Bhakti Dance! – an event I have been creating over the past year in Pennsylvania and in Ohio. I am hoping for a good “hometown” crowd for it this time. All this should feel more or less like part of the usual program; even better in a place where I am most at ease. It is actually a bit more complex at the moment, though thankfully not profoundly so – at least not anymore. 2014 has been a very weird year. I won’t write a book about it here, but suffice it to say that this year I found myself in close proximity with some practices and beliefs that were very off-putting (That would be somewhat of an understatement.). It was being called yoga, and it looked like yoga. I suppose it is yoga of a sort, but not one with which I care to interface. I can’t claim to know the inner life of anyone else, but it seemed to be a yoga of doctrine over discovery. It was clearly of mind over heart – a kind of academic belief in interconnectedness, but profoundly lacking in compassion. I could go on, but there is no need. There has been so much more to the journey than this, but one of the effects of opening my intimate circle to this bizarre detour has been to have to question all, to move through a real, but thankfully temporary fear of yoga and spiritual practice in general. I have had to rediscover for myself what these things are and what parts of them, if any, I want in my life. It has generally not been a good feeling, but it surely is powerful to tear everything down (or to have it torn down) to rebuild what is good and what matters. For a while, I wasn’t sure if I could go back to the part of my world that has been about facilitating kirtan and other yoga-related practices. Thanks to the help of genuine friends and my own journey through these months of decompression, reading, and sorting out what is helpful and for the highest good and what just isn’t, I have been teasing out and rediscovering all the elements of a contemplative, spiritual way of being that do resonate: Balance and integration are everything. Knowing and feeling the value of all beings is truth. The yoga that guides me and that is my daily way is doing the work of growth and finding the perfection in the messiness of real, everyday life, not in the aloof or abstract, but the embodied. Yoga is nothing if not about getting to the heart of love. I am relieved and quietly joyful to get back to my own daily meditation practice and my writing. The concert and Bhakti Dance will be so much fun on Saturday. I am glad to say it will come from a genuine place of opening to joy and enjoyment, finally unafraid.   Robin Renée @ The Soma Center 12-6-14

RobinRenee.com

Saturday, December 6th 6:30pm Soma Center *concert and Bhakti Dance! 511 Raritan Ave, Highland Park, NJ 08904 732-777-9642 w/ singer/violist Jessica Floresta   Concert performance 6:30-8pm Bhakti Dance! 8:30-10pm $12/either event, $20/the evening    Bhakti Dance! is a fun, transformative, alternative social event – Think of the high school dance only with great kirtan, mantra dance music, an uplifting party playlist, and none of the drama. Refreshments available.

Robin Renée & Terri Nunn @ World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, PA, 7/14/14. Photo by Andy Campbell

I got to see Berlin @ World Cafe Live in Philadelphia last night. It was an excellent show. Postponed from May 1st because of severe weather that knocked out the venue’s power, this time there was an intense downpour to contend with to get from my car to the building, but no big deal. I went to the show with my friend Andy Campbell, who suspects Terri Nunn may be a rain goddess.

I could wax poetic about the show, which really did go above and beyond – Her voice is in excellent form, the new songs were very good, sometimes surprisingly emotional, and I really liked the way they revamped the classic tunes, especially “Pleasure Victim,” stripped down, so to speak, to piano and voice.

My friend Andy, who said he could barely remember winning anything, was chosen for the after show meet & greet in a random drawing. I was happy that he chose me as his +1, and just as happy that the show actually happened this time. We were waiting for only a short while by the stage until Terri came out to say hello to the small group of waiting fans.

Andy complemented her on the show and had a brief but deep conversation about the life and death of her father, actor Larry Nunn, about whom she sang in “Blame it on the World.” When I got to the table where she was chatting and autographing, she asked me about my choice of T-shirt.

“Sex Geek,” she read. “Well, I guess people ask you, right? Why are you a sex geek?” I explained with a winking smile attitude that I like to know as much as I can about the things in life I enjoy the most. I told her it is actually a T-shirt design by my friend Reid Mihalko, a sex and relationship educator. “What does he teach?” she asked. I wasn’t expecting to give Reid’s elevator speech in that moment, and I don’t remember exactly what I said. I think the words “openness in sexuality, honesty, and integrity” were involved in what I felt was likely way too concise a description. She smiled, said “All right!” and gave me a high-five.

I gave her a download card for All Six Senses, which is the older recording of mine I seem to enjoy the most these days. She seemed genuinely psyched that I am also a musician and I gave my music elevator speech (NOT my elevator music speech), which was probably even more truncated than the one I gave for Reid. I handed her my cassette copy of the Pleasure Victim album for her to sign. She laughed. “A cassette! Do you actually listen to this?” “Not lately,” I told her, also laughing. “It is quite an artifact, isn’t it?” She agreed.

I got my photo op and we said goodnight (I wish I had been standing more straight ahead so it doesn’t look like my shirt says “SEX GEE,” but oh well, it was in the moment.). “Keep playing,” she called out as we were walking away. I intend to – in all good ways possible.

"Robin, you're gorgeous! Terri Nunn"

“Robin, you’re gorgeous! Terri Nunn”

 

 

2014PhillyBannersmall

For me, 2013 was a year of things coming together.  I tried more than a few times to come up with a list of “Best Moments,”  “Biggest Breakthroughs,” or whatever, but none of that really showed up fully formed.  Besides, I imagine some people get as sick of that year-end stuff as I do.

What happened for me last year, honestly, was a subtler experience.  I found myself growing in ways I hadn’t in some time – mostly to do with how I was allowing my mind to re-embrace happiness and creativity.  I was determined not to chase after gigs to the detriment of balance and good business sense, and positive opportunities came my way.  I found refocusing on health to be an easy, joyful thing.  Community that I’d felt missing started to be in my life again.

I have sought connection with other polyamorous people since the mid-1990’s in one way or another.  It has always been a positive, balancing thing to have a touchstone of sorts- a way to meet others who find that love emerges in similar ways as it does for me.  I’ve been hosting or co-creating events with Philadelphia Mindful Polyamory Meetup for a while.  I can say that last year I started to notice that what once seemed like only separate events and happenings started to feel more like forums for real connection. I have been meeting friends with whom I really want to create and I look forward to seeing often.  I imagine this has much more to do with my readiness to reach out and to be out in the world than it does with others in the group.  Apparently I’m back up for noticing good people, many of whom have been there all along.

At one of the coffeehouse poly meetups I co-facilitate in South Jersey, I met a student named Jessica who was studying polyamory and came to chat and ask questions.  She also mentioned wanting to get back into playing music and I took down her info.  I probably dragged my feet a bit about getting in touch, but I am so glad I finally did.  Turns out she is a great singer and viola player, not to mention a smart and fun/funny person. We have the most ridiculous conversations sometimes!  I was really pleased with the show we played last fall at World Café Live at the Queen in Wilmington, DE.   This week we’ve been getting ready to perform next Friday at the Poly Living conference in Philadelphia.  (A word about Skype rehearsal: It doesn’t really work.  But Google+ Hangout is great for planning the set list.)

If you want to come check out Poly Living 2014, I’ll be singing on Friday, February 7th before keynote speaker Anita Wagner Illig, and again later that evening at the conference reception.  I am really happy to have been invited to be part of it.

For more info & Poly Living registration: http://www.lovemore.com/conferences/polyliving

RobinRenee.com

Mark Mothersbaugh autograph, Thomme Chiki lip print

I’m joking in the title.  I doubt there is any real art to knowing how or when to show up to things unprepared.  I generally am a fan of a good plan.  Often when unpreparedness happens it pretty much sucks, but I try my best to pull things together.  Once in a while, though, being unprepared leads to something profound.

For someone who was about ready to throw in the proverbial towel when it comes to music, I’ve wound up with quite a few good gigs this year.  There is something to be said for not worrying too much.  Ohio continues to have some kind of cosmic pull – I have connected with great, loving yoga and kirtan community there, which balances well with getting to perform with The Mutant Mountain Boys there for SubGenius and Devo happenings.  I’ve been to Ohio twice this summer and wouldn’t be sad at all if I managed to schedule my way back once more this year.

I didn’t feel terribly prepared for any of my gigs this last time out.  At Kundalini Yoga & Wellness in New Cumberland, PA, I played music for yoga, followed by a short kirtan with my old friend JD Stillwater.  That is supposed to be freeform and intuitive, so a lack of set list is fine, if not ideal.  JD and I worked well together.  I appreciated the practice with spontaneity and listening.

I’ve been working with a lot of changes this summer – focusing on health, having internal consciousness and intention exploration stuff – and it has been leaving me in a state of busy-brain.  So much was going on in my mind that the long drive to Cleveland didn’t seem to help me solidify the house concert set for that next night.  I mean, I knew essentially which tunes I would do, but I didn’t feel particularly balanced and rehearsed when I arrived and had to quickly set up the sound system (while making friends with the host’s four awesome dogs).  The show turned out just fine.  The people and the energy were better than fine.  I was even surer about this Cleveland-area vortex that has seemed to open up in my life.  Still, I’d like to find a more easeful pattern when it comes to travel and gigging.  It continues to be a work in progress.

The main reason for this last trip was to make my way out to A Not … TOTALLY Dev-o Tribute Night at The Summit in Columbus.  I absolutely love playing with The Mutant Mountain Boys, and when we were asked to do this show, I started working on booking gigs right away to make the unexpected travel reasonable. Well, we made it there, and we played the gig.  We weren’t terribly prepared.  Samantha was jet-lagged after flying in from Tucson and was running on almost no sleep.  I was pretty exhausted, too, so how could Jim exactly get on a wavelength with that?  We all could have played better, so… we were just ok.  We had an amazing, energetic show at 16X-Day.  Perfectionist that I am, I am (almost) ok with not having been 100% for this one.  We talked about it later and hope to plan future shows so we have at least 24 hours in the same place together to rest, regroup, and rehearse before we hit the stage.  We all had a good time anyway, Lieutenant Dance was fabulous, there are some great pics posted, and the impetus for a late August Devo fan event with friends was started again.

At one point relatively early in the evening, Thomme Chiki, the organizer of the event, asked people if they had any stories or pivotal life moments to share about Devo.  There were two disco ball piñatas in the house and I stepped up to tell the story of how I’d been in the audience during the New York portion of filming for the “Disco Dancer” video and how that was an exciting time for me.  I’m not sure why I didn’t think at that time to tell more of the story:

It was at a club called The World.  The band played a few tunes, then prepared to record for the video.  They did several takes of “Disco Dancer” and the audience gave their enthusiasm.  I didn’t quite “get” this particular song or why it was the single, but I was of course ecstatic to be present for anything Devo.  Afterward, the crowd started to disperse and the club turned into a regular dance space.  After a while, I was dancing and turned to see Mark Mothersbaugh who had come out of the dressing room/green room area and was crossing the dance floor.  I went into instant groupie mode, beelined toward him and asked, “Mark, can I have your autograph?”  He said yes.  I looked blankly for a split second, then said “I don’t have any paper.”  Duh.  I asked him to please wait, and I told him I’d find some.  So there is one of my major heroes standing on the side of the dance floor kind of aimlessly while I scurry around looking for paper.  Bizarrely (though maybe not so strange for 1988), the first piece of paper I found was a tri-fold AIDS info pamphlet that had fallen to the floor.  It said “AIDS, Sex, and You.”  I handed it to Mark and he gave me the most bemused look.  I apologized and told him it was just the first thing I could find.  He wrote “No sex is safe and also good.”  I didn’t think that was very sound information, but hey, I had just prompted Mark Mothersbaugh to write something about sex, which I found to be pretty awesome.  He wrote an “xo” and signed his name.  I thanked him.  Then I got even more bold and asked him if he would like to dance.  He said, “No, I have to get back to Jerry.”  Then he paused, looked at me, and said “You’re very beautiful,” before he disappeared back through the door.  I was pretty much in heaven.

~~~

At The Summit last Friday night, the MMB were getting ready to leave and something gave me the idea to seek another autograph.  I picked up a black and white flyer for the event from one of the tables and thought it would be cool to have Thomme Chiki sign it, since he’d done so much to put the night together.  I didn’t know him so well, but always thought of him as a cool and dedicated spud with encyclopedic knowledge of Devo and probably lots of other things.  I asked him half seriously if he’d sign the flyer, and when he said yes, I thought that would be a really great souvenir. The next question was, “Do you have a pen?”  I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t think I did.  I started to dig through my bag.  The first thing I came up with was a tube of red lipstick.  I said, “You could sign it in lipstick.” He made a funny kissy face, but then took the lipstick for real and went to the other side of the club where there was either a mirror or a mirrored section of the wall.  I could see he was putting on the lipstick.  When it started to take kind of a long time, I realized he was doing this quite seriously.  I had assumed that if he did it at all, it would be taken as a big, goofy joke (interesting bit of gender stereotyping I did there).

I was stunned by the image I saw walking back toward me.  It was a simple, sweet and graceful androgynous beauty.  I was basically rendered momentarily speechless.  He returned the lipstick and said quietly, “Thanks for sharing.” He kissed the flyer.  I rather awkwardly vied for a lip print on the cheek.  I had not at all been prepared for this aspect, this physical manifestation of the beautiful in-between to show up in that moment.  I was engrossed – It was moving and exciting to be so taken off-guard.  Reflecting on it now, I see a gorgeous, encouraging reminder that this place/non-place where I live and love and write is absolutely real – and here is another soul, perhaps gliding through a similar journey.

I suppose I would do well to try my best to be prepared for most things.  Virgos prefer order, they say.  But at least when it comes to autograph-seeking in Devo-related contexts, being a bit out of sync has so far worked quite well.

~~~

I am booking concerts and events in Ohio and worldwide!  Inquire at bookings@robinrenee.com and visit me at www.robinrenee.com.

white-flag

I’ve been sitting with this news for the last couple of hours. I’ve been trying to find a way into the right poetic expression, but that’s not showing up. So, I’ll just let you in on my decision.

I won’t be booking shows myself as a primary focus anymore. Trying to do my own bookings has been an exhausting process for too long now. It feeds neither my soul nor my finances enough to continue.

This doesn’t mean I’m through with music. Music has been alive in me more than ever in perennial and surprising ways. That is exciting. So are some of the other aspects of the business of music that I’ve neglected while chasing different pieces of the puzzle. I’ll be more on track with this newly-created space in my life.

I have long believed that when people say they don’t have time for something, it is really an indication of priorities. If it actually matters, time will show itself, I thought. When I continually was feeling I had no time to book a proper tour or get to the details of show x, I had to consider whether or not being a working musician was something I even wanted. My answer is YES, it is something I want, and so I had to modify my understanding of making time. Time, at least on this plane where business and 24-hour days happen, is not limitless.

I do make time for a lot of what I need to do, and a lot of what I love. But too much to do, all of which feels important, leads to everything done almost well enough. Living too long in that state has left me ragged.

I am not giving up performing live. I will put some more thought and effort into finding someone willing and able to handle bookings for me. I believe viable live tours are possible, and that help to make them possible can somehow come to fruition.

I still fully encourage people and venues who would like to hear me perform live to get in touch. I will be happy to respond to serious requests for concerts and other appearances. I realize I may not see some of you as soon or as often as I’d like to for a while. Right now, I am open to change and a different kind of freedom. Becoming an honestly creative being again is most definitely on the new agenda.

I have gone through, and am still going through a full range of emotions around this decision. I plan to keep raising it up to a positive state of surrender. It isn’t giving up. It is rebooting. It is releasing what clearly doesn’t work and leaving space for what will.

surrender11

Steve Forbert

I went to see Highway of Sight, Steve Forbert’s cell phone photo exhibit, this past Saturday at the ART629 Gallery in Asbury Park. I had been feeling a little anti-social all day, so it really was a good thing to hear from Nancey, my good friend and concert-going buddy, who convinced me to quit cocooning and come out and play. Thanks, Nancey—I appreciate that! The two of us have such fun hanging out and being Forbert groupies together- How could I miss this one?

As I came in the door, I was surprised by Steve, who said hello, remembered my name and that he had seen me the week before at his show at The Record Collector in Bordentown. I am not sure he remembered that I interviewed him for the 2008 Songwriter’s Market. He couldn’t have known that a few years ago I was contemplating using the title of this blog entry as the title of a book. The book would be based on a slice of autobiography – soul-searching in the years around my father’s passing and other lesser life complications – with the backdrop of my strange pursuit of this quietly enduring folksinger. For a long time I have also wanted to write about the power, mostly positive, I think, that exists in music hero worship, and the bonds and creativity borne out of fandom. When I heard about the recent publication of I Think I Love You  I felt scooped, but whatever—I have different insights and stories to tell. There are quite a few books living in my head. One day, some of them will escape and find themselves written down, I promise.

The photos were simple, telling bits of Americana and curious things found along the trail of a touring musician. In this show, Forbert seemed to favor repeating items – like soda bottles or rows of eggs – that reminded me of early industrial innovation. I was checking out the images, wondering why an artist finds a particular fascination, or vice versa. The artist himself had been affable and talkative with attendees all evening. He managed to surprise me again and out of the blue walked up and asked, “So what’s the deal?” He wanted to know about the town I live in, and which photo was my favorite. My fave of the moment was “Glass Stems in Case.”

His question got me to confront something I had only idly mused over before:

Seriously, what is the deal?

Why this cyclical fixation (and the requisite goofy crush that goes with it) on the unassuming Steve Forbert and his live performances? I have the records and CDs, but it is mainly about the live show. I’ve seen him more in concert than quite a few of my other fangirl obsessions like Steely Dan, Gary Wilson (I know, he doesn’t play that much), and even Devo.

Though it is fun to revel in the mysterious nature of my adoration, I can say a little about what draws me:

Storytelling. Forbert is a solid craftsman of songs of struggle, love, work, and everyday greatness. He is afraid of neither politics (“The Baghdad Dream,” the ever-evolving “Oil Song”) nor humor (“Strange Names – New Jersey’s Got ‘Em)”. One of the surprising byproducts of the emergence of kirtan chant into my life was a lessening of the impetus to tell stories in song. When you are at OM, what more is there to say? I feel the stories reemerging now, and can look to the art of cutting to the core of basic human experience in Forbert’s best tunes for guidance.

He loves his career. I have heard him say more than once that he is grateful for the early success of “Romeo’s Tune” because it has enabled him to do what he likes for all these years. Another artist might be forever angry that meteoric success didn’t continue unabated. Steve seems to get that he has a good life and a really cool gig going on.

Perfect timing. Honestly, I believe this all started back in the day the first time I heard WMMR play “Goin’ Down to Laurel.” My heart melted and I was changed in some intangible way. Later, “Romeo’s Tune” was the summer love theme playing in my head as I would travel hours by bus and train to Connecticut to see a girl I was crazy about who I’d met at summer camp.

He is earnest. The language he uses is often matter-of-fact, sometimes cute, and may deal with pain, but is not meant to cause pain. He can write a personal or cultural critique without the cutting cynicism that I actually love from other artists. A Steve Forbert song is like an antidote to an overdose of bitterness. His body of work tells us that he really wants the best for the world and all of us in it, without even so much as a devolutionary twist.

Inspiration. Whenever I’m nervous about whatever it is my next move ought to be, I remember these immortal words:  “You Cannot Win If You Do Not Play.”

I recently checked out the open mic at Coffee Works.  I am still thinking about the evening, and how much value there is in musical spaces like it.  I seem to remember having left the open mic thing back somewhere when people were moving away from Joni and Dylan songs to cover Oasis and Ani.  I’ve been missing out, so I’m glad to get back to the possibility of coming out on a random Tuesday night and sharing tunes, maybe with friends, mostly with strangers. 

There were some very good lyricists there.  A decent mix of the young, the nervous, the regulars—a nice version of everything one expects an open mic to be.  As for the inevitable cover tunes, I find them either a comfort or a curiosity.  I don’t mind at all sticking around to see which oddball or overplayed tune people will pull out, and how they’ll decide to change it up.  That night, there was everything from Paul Simon to Otis Redding to Taylor Swift, which says something (positive, I think) about the fairly wide demographic.  I played “Into the Fire,” a song that has every intention of making it to my next CD, and the harmonium version of “Holy River.”  I hazard a guess that the harmonium is an instrument not often played at Coffee Works.  I had to push myself a little to not just settle for being the appropriate and expected “girl with guitar” in that context.  I’m glad I did.   

It has been a long while, but I did have a few gigs at Coffee Works, at least one where I may as well have been a radio.  Not long after that, I decided that I had learned enough from coffee house type gigs where I was likely to be treated as a soundtrack to conversation and grinding coffee beans.  Deciding to force myself into situations that demand more intentional listening or participation was a good thing.  Forgetting that there might be something good about future events in coffee house venues or even (gasp) trying again at this same place was an oversight. 

Granted, it is a bonus that the place has increased dramatically in its cool factor in my humble opinion now that people like Jeffrey Gaines, Graham Parker, and Steve Forbert have been gracing the stage.  Perhaps I shall wax poetic about my love of Steve some other time. 

In the years just after I sang and played keys in Spy Gods, there was a uniquely moving period for acoustic music – and particularly women’s acoustic music— in New Brunswick, NJ.  I played in the local cafes there sometimes, but was in a deeply quiet, incubation period of life.  I remember myself then more as a proverbial wallflower, growing internally but not quite ready to bloom with new words and music.   That time period feels remarkably similar to what I‘ve just been through, though it seems like a little more wisdom is hanging around.  Can one trust the mind that thinks it is wiser?         

I’m ready to go back to beginnings in the open mic environment to start playing some works-in-progress, even if they’re not Virgo-perfect.  That scares me, which is precisely why it is going on my Bold Steps list of things to do.  Ego-self would rather appear only on grand stages, and feels like open mics are stepping backward.  Sinking into the deeper knowing, there is value waiting for me in creation outside of a vacuum, the sounds of others daring to be excellent or imperfect, and even in the risk of being ignored in lieu of a mocha soy latte. 

Personal ashram life is allowing space for me to be more observant, more appreciative.  I have been noticing things worth exploring that have been nearby all along.  I’d believed the hype that if it’s in South Jersey it can’t really be that cool.  This was an incorrect and not so helpful an assumption.  I have a few more amusing ASSumptions to ramble on about next time.

At the end of the kirtan last night at The Yoga Place in North Canton, OH, I mentioned that I like being in the area.  Someone said “Why don’t you move here?”  My impulse response was “If you move the ocean here, I’ll think about it.”  I feel most at peace and most able to uncover a sense of union with All when I am on the shoreline.  On the edge of the continent, cool and sandy earth, vast sky, fiery sun warmth, and infinite-seeming water couldn’t be more clear expressions of the makings of all life.  Rarely do I ever feel homesick, as I am generally happy to be wherever I am, experiencing what is there.  In that moment of remembering the shore, though, I had a twinge of it.  It suddenly felt alien to be more than seven hours from the closest ocean.  How fitting that as I drove over the Ben Franklin Bridge this evening NPR was playing an interview with Bruce Springsteen on the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town.  It was good listening– I’d never considered his poetry that directly before.  Welcome back to Jersey.    

 All four of the gigs on this mini-tour worked out very well.  The people and the vibe to carry the evenings all showed up.  I am never sure what my inner experience will be while I’m singing, so I let myself be surprised.  Somewhere in the middle of leading chanting in Kent and in Toledo, the bemusement crept in. 

 What the heck am I doing up here?  Why am I singing mantra again?  How did all this even happen?  Am I here to facilitate spiritual experience?  No, I just sing.  Whatever – Time to stop analyzing – Sheesh. 

 It is the old familiar WTF that I try to treat as I would any thought in meditation – see it, breathe, and let it go.  It’s not an easy one to let go.  Sometimes I need to run through the timeline in my head just a little—remembering the visions, the love, the white light, the dreams that swept me into recognizing that Spirit would be more a part of my music and overall being than I’d ever known. 

 Why does all this still surprise me?     

Thankfully, the surprise washed through and moved along, swept up and sublimated in the ocean of sound.  All the events this time out were sweet experiences.  House of Yoga in Berkely, MI near Detroit was an ideal in many ways – not the least of which was for the chance to see some amazingly cool black squirrels nearby the next day!  But I digress—the musical joy was that I was able to sing nearly an hour set of songs and then the same time was given to chanting.  It feels wonderfully dynamic and balancing when these elements are invited together and I intend to develop the show and do more in this format.  North Canton was a straight-up kirtan after which there was a sense of exuberance and deep fellowship in the air.

All the people I met or had the chance to see again on this trip are good, good, solid, loving beings.  I am blessed to have found a path that leads me to them.  Some kind of general positivity swirls for me in the Cleveland area and into some margin beyond.  It is where the Devo fans gather for the annual DEVOtional.  It is where kirtan connections have led to knowing kind people on rich paths.  It is where whenever I am linked up with a musician for a gig, we usually sound like automatic magic.  I may be a coastal being, but I will be back to be part of these circles as I am able.

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