Kerry's Blog

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...from the seas of melancholy, existential landscapes, shadowy corners,
green meadows and ironic vistas of my mind.

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Remembering you Ketu

sure, we talked about Empire
saw the world through similar glasses
not rose-colored but clear as still water:
powers that be
"divide and conquer"
suppression of hope
instilling of fear and all of it an illusion
created to lift up the gods of money and power
placing those gods on the altar out of reach for all
but the symbolic 1% their aura surrounding the planet like a dirty sheen

like in the matrix, we talked as Neo & Morpheus seeing the truth of it
wanting out
needing to create a community
but still in search of the seeds that alreadyv exist in the back streets & hidden forests
and meadows of this great land we call

we had such deep conversations
and although I remember the feeling of relief
to speak of this freely
other details of your visit are embedded more
deeply in my being, from those four days:
your morning coffee, raisins & currants and maybe some toast
the "Ghetto plate": fresh red onion, tomato, avocado, basil

the deli rice and veggies at the QFC that looked promising
but had no flavor...a metaphor?
The meal at the Skagit co-op so delicious

We ate different foods
I quickly abandoned the meals I had planned for us
As your uniqueness manifested
I surrendered in respect for who you are
Who I have had the privilege to now know and call friend

Chip time!!!!!

Thrusday, March 17, 2011
Two Things
The clouds are currently covering my snow-capped mountains - the ones I see out my window - calling mine when they shine pink in the early morning sun, making me take a deep breath, like a small gasp, at the magnitude of their beauty. Such a sharp contrast to the view I see on my smart phone when I wake it up each morning - and my gasp is a different one - as the headlines scream at me about the world descending into a chaos of madness. The juxtaposition of these two gasps creates a tension in my body. One is an addiction, the other a soothing salve to treat my many scars and a few open wounds. How did we get here, I wonder...and how do I find my way home?

"There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in," wrote Leonard Cohen. I've seen that light. It's not the same as the light of a thousand suns that the gurus promise you'll see when you surrender your life to them and practice their secret techniques and hand over your heart, soul and money...what we do for love!

So when I tumbled down those six cement steps and hit the cement sidewalk and got another crack, literally, in the ball of my femur, and the 911 guys loaded me into their truck and drove me to the hospital where they peered beneath my skin and saw my broken bones and handed me to a surgeon who cut me with a knife and gave me titanium and chrome parts...I wondered why it happened...once I was able to wonder again.

There was the mean nurse in the ER who threatened me because I refused the shot she wanted to give me. Tetanus mixed with pertussis. I said I was fine with the tetanus shot because of the wound on my hand but did not want pertussis. Taken aback by my refusal, she raised her voice and said they only had the combination and I once again said I would not accept it. She said that I could die if I didn't have it. Her lips were pursed and even though she was tall, thin, blond and good looking, she transformed into the church lady as she was describing my eventual death. I held my ground and three months later I am still alive. Was that a test that I passed, to stand up for myself even in the most vulnerable position - on a gurney, unable to walk or move, cut, bruised and broken but still in charge of my own body, my own life?

Then there was that phone call-the one that changed my life. Still in the ER, on the gurney, people all around me were asking questions: insurance card? next of Kin? allergies? Sign this form and this one and this one. So I stopped and took out my phone and called my friend Cameron who was working near the hospital. I told him where I was and asked for help. He came right away with a pen and paper. I was still in the ER, on the gurney, getting ready to be wheeled to an X-ray and MRI. Cameron wrote down everything I needed, then took off and did it all, with a smile on his face.

So this feeling washed over me and it wasn't just the pain meds finally coming through the IV in my arm. It was the unique feeling of being in my most vulnerable and helpless state and having the safety net of friendship be there to hold me a few feet off the ground, not letting me hit the cement, which of course I already did, literally...but not emotionally, because a few people would not let go of me.

So yes, maybe it happened because I needed to experience those two things: the power and self confidence rise up in me, allowing me to take charge of my own body and make my own decisions and enough trust to let myself be vulnerable and surrender, asking for help so I could witness the best part of being alive on this planet-the kindness and generosity of the human spirit in the midst of the madness in this world.

Friday, July 1, 2011
Neutrino Messages

Finished reading The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver...a novel about a novelist, but so much more than that. I have to say epic as a historical novel. The main character ends up working for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Mexico during the time they hosted Trotsky, then moves back to his country of birth (the good old USA) and after publishing two amazing novels about Mexican History, Cortes and the common man VS empire builders, he is investigated by J. Edgar Hoover and the Committee as a communist and his career is ruined. There are pieces of our history I did not know about that parallel todays issues. OK so that is the factual overview. However, this book is exquisitely written, with delicious prose and savory insights about the heart, and fear and politics and it was so difficult to put down when it ended, because I wanted to live with the writer, Harrison, even though he is not real. I wanted to be Violet, so I could spend so much time around his amazing spirit and insights. Of course now I have to go read all her other books, so I can meet more of these people who inhabit her pen. Inspired once again to actually journal every day and write down all the things that go through my mind so many times a day, move me inside and are then gone, I hope to write more often in this blog, even if it only inconsequential and mundane drivel. It is my drivel and so represents some sort of residue that may be left from my life once is its goneuntil the rains wash away the lead and ink or the Internet crashes and all words in cyberspace are just electromagnetic static or maybe that when our sun explodes into a supernova, a few tiny neutrinos can carry the message of my life billions of light years through space and if I am ever reincarnated as a human or alien on a distant planet, those neutrinos may pass though my body and tell me something ancient about myself: love over fear, freedom over oppression, community over Empire.

Friday, March 12, 2010
Just My Opinion

No one really knows their children. We harbor a myth that the small person we "raised" is who they really are. But the conditioning we consciously or unconsciously inflict on them only gets thicker the longer they are with us. Not until they leave do they ever have a chance to de-condition, to let their own desires, impulses and curiosities take over, as they maneuver through the landscapes and mine fields of experience on planet earth discovering what truly attracts them, leading to their own unique destiny. And if parents (I am including myself here) are lucky enough, smart enough or distracted enough to stay out of the way and wise enough to keep the the lines of communication open and positive, they may get to witness the emergence of a uniquely free and very different, but authentic person...and be privileged to get to know her.

Sunday, January 31, 2010
adjustable life policy

I held the old rubber stamp in my hand, thinking about its message: "may be eligible for adjustable life policy." It was with conscious intent that I entered the antique mall on South Calhoun Street thinking I might find a clue, a tool to deconstruct my dysfunctions, an inanimate guru, a manufactured shaman personalized to my psyche, placed in front of me by the serendipitous flow of my intent--the intent I was bestowed pre-birth not from the genetics of my ancestors but from the spirit piece of me that inhabits the meat life after life, assembling clues, shedding pain, restructuring experiences to fit new environments. So names and places change but the pithy atmosphere surrounding them remains the same and I can catch a scent of deja vu that keeps things magical--like smelling salts of the divine. And this new me can remember where it left off ...caveat: because I will have been stuffed into the womb of some dysfunctional woman, emerging clueless, I have to figure out so much of it all over again for the first 25 to 35 years. Not an efficient use of millennial time I must say. I will have to comment on this to the gods if I ever reach their heaven in this two steps forward, one step back dance. So I hope I am truly eligible for the occasional adjustable life policy.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009
anything new under the sun?

It's all been said before. Is there a new way to say it? No gimmick, just coming from my power place(deep) shot out to the world on a piercing arrow of words. A satisfying shot--whether I hit or miss. It's the wind the arrow generates that moves the air inside and out. That movement (that wind) is enough to reveal my purpose for another day---to feel---to look around in wonder---to absorb the pithy view in reverence and appreciation. Does that make me a mystic? Mystical food is that which nourishes my synapses so they stay in working order and my vehicle can move toward the destination that is coded in my genes---never consciously revealed to me---only a thrilling hint that I am along for the ride simply to enjoy the view.

Sunday, September 07, 2008
Position Statement as I contemplate my footprint

I was thinking: What footprint am I leaving on this planet? Which plants have I crushed, or nourished? Am I creating a garden in my wake, or devastation? It's the only thing I control, this footprint. It can't come from a conceptual place that has been conditioned by others. It has to come from under the layers I am peeling away, from my heart's pure intent. I can't predict what it will look like, because it doesn't conform to dogmas, belief systems, or the black/white, right/wrong delineations of this world. My first step is to be aware of my unique footprint, then to be conscious in my decision-making and interactions so that my footprint aligns with my inner intent. Then it can be said that I am living the good life. What does that look like for me? (it will look different for each person) It aligns with my belief that the creative spirit runs through everyone and manifests in unique expressions, and that providing opportunities and encouragement for people to express their creativity in their own way adds to the beauty, health and spirit of a community. Freeing up the spirit and energy of creative endeavor without focusing on the outcome or judging its value, has the potential to manifest a Renaissance Footprint.

May 30, 2008

The lead singer of mewithoutYou, this Christian Emo-angst alternative rock band, screamed out the lyrics: Im a living example of one hundred percent the opposite of this! It went from the CD player's headphones right into the layer of my being that exists in shadow during most of my waking hours. So I put the quote on my Facebook page. I resonated with it. Maybe it correlates to my ancestral inheritance through my mothers side.

Frances Farmer's mother put her in Western State Mental Hospital in Washington, because she would not do what she was told, being strong willed and eccentric. Jessica Lange played Frances in the movie. Watching it made me nervous. My great grandma Kate died in Western State Hospital; put there by her children who passed her from house to house in her later years until she was finally out of sight of civilized society. It was a family secret I inherited through the unconscious suppression of the dark places we were not allowed to express.

Katherine Heft hated Conrath Shillreff, ever since her sister decided to marry him. She thought he was arrogant and lazy. Then her sister died, so her father (who still wanted the cows and pigs and whatever else you got for a girl bride in 1800s Russia) gave him Katherine instead, gaining livestock and losing a bull-headed daughter. She bore nine children: five in Russia and four more after they arrived in the Northwest Territories. My Grandpa Henry was born in 1889, in Ritzville, just before Washington became a state.

Katherine the Great of Russia imported the Hefts, the Schillreffs and many other families from Germany, giving them land in the Volga Valley in southwest Russia and the pledge that they would not have to serve in the military. They were expert wheat growers and she wanted them to be role models. But when Russias military needs expanded, promises were not kept, and young landowners like Conrath decided to immigrate to the new world rather than fight, settling down in many wheat-growing communities across the continent. As Kate suspected, Conrath had no desire to work the land himself, but in the new world all immigrants, even former serfs, were given land to work and he could not find anyone to do his bidding.

Kate was more than Conrath bargained for and when he left her and the children one winter in a shack in the woods with very little food. She used her energy and innate street smarts to go to court and have his land deeded to her name. Court records show the land changing hands several times, back and forth, until, finally, he won. My Aunt Shirley found letters from relatives with rumors about Kate's later life. She had a shack next to the railroad tracks in Eastern Washington and would cook for the workers and sell them liquor. The local ranchers and farmers labeled her a witch because she could cure their animals with herbs.

She died alone in the mental hospital before I was born. I obtained a few photos of her a year ago. It was like looking in a mirror. Not the physical features, but what was looking out of her eyes. She was a woman out of place, out of time, juicing as much freedom as she could in a world that was one hundred percent the opposite of her.

Sunday, March 09, 2008
Just Thinkin'

I'm Reading Oracle Bones: A journey through time in China by Peter Hessler. It is nonfiction but reads like a novel...China is so huge and its history is so vast that any history written picks and chooses events and famous people but many stories are never told. This is full of stories (so far anyway) and people whose ancestry is mixed nomadic Russian and Chinese etc. One of his English students from a tiny village where nothing "important" ever happened for the last 3000 years loved to learn English idioms especially with "questionable" meanings. He would practice his English by coming up to the author and saying in perfectly articulated English, "How is your premature ejaculation?"

There is one passage in the book that made me start to think about my own history. The author talks about a man he met and meets for meals to talk:
"Galambos is an instinctive skeptic. He is suspicious of neatness, regularity, plot; in his view, stories are often a facade for chaos. This perspective may be genetic--Tatar DNA--or it may simply be what happens when our own story doesn't make any sense. Apart from basic details, his family history is unknown. He has no idea why his Kazak grandmother lived in northeastern China, or why she left. He doesn't know how she met the Tatar, or which route they took to the Urals."

I put the book down and started thinking about my "story" and how I always used to think of it as linear, with some idea about where I was headed. Then it changed over time to a sort of spiral, as I seemed to come back in a circle to where I was before, but with a bit more wisdom or a different perspective so I was at a higher point in the spiral but the same point on a vertical line. But that is still linear as it is following a line from a starting point to some higher destination. Then I started to see it as two steps forward, one step back, as a sort of dance where I move and then trip and then pick myself up, a bit tattered but smarter and farther along. Now I think more like Galambos, maybe there is more chaos than order to my story. Unlike him, I have had the opportunity to ask some parents and grandparents questions, and know some of my history and can see some ancestral threads moving thru the story, and in an effort to be free I attempt to break those threads or move them from unconscious to conscious. But I don't see my movement as linear anymore, or that I am going to a certain destination. There are still some events that I want to manifest, or goals that are loosely creative that I am moved, internally, to accomplish, but I do not feel driven anymore and am a bit more complacent about where I am. Is that age-related? It is a sort of contentment but I also am aware of the chaotic nature of world events and the changing illusion of stability and security in all the aspects of life around me: jobs, finances, friends, health. But still, inside that chaos, I sense a calm (in the eye of the storm?). So is Galambos right? Is the attempt to tell stories just a way for us to cover up the fear of chaos? Trying to find some sort of order or meaning in the connections of events to ourselves?
Just thinkin'

August 16, 2007
A2 Road Trip to see Teddy Thompson
Only slightly giddy I headed north to Ann Arbor last Sunday with Linda driving her SUV and Teddy Thompson coming through the speakers. The trip went really fast with all the talking and music. Once in Ann Arbor we hit a Starbucks first and then a crystal shop where Linda bought some polished petrified wood. We finally ended up in an Irish Pub right next to the Ark complete with flies, a dirty floor and average pub food. There was also an unusual smell in the place I could not quite identify but it definitely wasnt a crisp clean smell. I did ask the waitress about the term A2, which I only recently discovered is Ann Arbors nickname. I wanted to know if it was because Ann Arbor had two As. She said most people say A squared. This bothered me because if it was A squared the 2 should be a superscript and not a regular 2. But I decided not to bring that up as the wait staff all seemed to be somewhat spaced out that afternoon and I did not want to confuse them any further.

We then moved outdoors to the sidewalk tables so Linda could smoke and we could just chill and enjoy the liberal ambiance of this great town. The line in front of the Ark started growing as it got closer to opening time but we did not have to compete because we had assigned seats. Linda took this photo of me as I was going into the Ark, and it was already apparent that I was trouble waiting to happen.

This was my first time in the actual Ark. Our road trip here in January was for the Arks 30th Anniversary Folk Festival which was held in the large concert hall on the University of Michigan campus. The Ark is very small: outdoor tables and chairs on the floor in front of a raised stage and behind them an aisle and then about 8 rows of terraced theatre-type seats. They were selling popcorn, micro brews and spring water in the other room. We bought two waters and two popcorns. Teddy was opening for Mindy Smith, who I had never heard. Teddy was on Conan last week and Letterman a few weeks ago playing a song from his new CD. This new one is actually a CD of Teddy covering older country tunes. I love his voice and presence no matter what he sings ever since I saw him on the Leonard Cohen movie, Im Your Man. I recently read that he also sang one of his original songs on the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain. As we were listening to him sing with just his guitar and voice and no other accompaniment, I felt injected with the emotional energy he was emanating. I told Linda later, on the drive home, that listening to him sing was like foreplay in that there was this pithy sexy atmosphere that surrounded him and flowed out in a wide aura that just slowly sucked you in and got you all excited. Well, me anyway.

He only talked a few times during this set, but his self-effacing style and British accent were endearing. The crowd loved him when he finally spoke, after the third song, and said, Im Teddy Thompson from the UK, home of country music. I have to say I was extremely happy when he sang a trio of songs from his previous CD, Separate Ways, which is my favorite. Everyone loved it when he sang the line, being happys easy when youre dumb.

In case you dont know who Teddy is, he was born 31 years ago on a Sufi hippie commune in the UK to famous folk singers, Richard and Linda Thompson. In fact just a few weeks ago, his fathers latest CD was featured in the Whatzup CD review section. But Teddy does not ride any coattails as his voice and performances are stunning in their own right. After his opening act he invited us to come buy a CD back in the room with the popcorn during intermission and he would sign it. Not really being a country fan I was initially not going to buy the CD, but after hearing him sing and then knowing I would get to check out his vibe up close and personal, I got in line. Hed only brought 30 CDs to this gig but I got one. I was totally smitten when he looked up and asked my name so he could write it on the CD, but more than that he actually looked at me with that kind of look that gets right inside your aura and you can tell hes a very genuine person. So I just blurted out, Do you mind if my friend takes my picture with you? Without hesitating he said, Sure. So I walked behind the table and Teddy put his arm around me and Linda snapped a photo. I look only slightly high and deranged and Teddy was leaning into me like an old drinking buddy.

After the break Mindy Smith came on stage and by the time she finished her second song I really wanted to just leave and drive home. It was a Sunday night with over two hours of driving to get back to the Fort and I was starting to squirm in my seat but did not want to pressure Linda into leaving if she was enjoying the show. It wasnt that Mindy didnt have a pretty voiceshe did. It wasnt that the music was bad, she played a decent rhythm guitar and her partner had a great deep rich sound coming from his guitar. But I couldnt connect with her emotionally. She had a flat affect and it felt like her confidence was only a persona not coming from her heart. Plus she retuned her guitar between every song. After four songs I could not stand it anymore and leaned over to Linda and said, So what do you think? And she said, I think we could leave early. I was ecstatic, and while Mindy retuned her guitar once again, we slipped out the door and got on the road. I was home by midnight.

Check out Teddy at

May 26, 2007
Vanity Fair essay entry
Last September I saw an ad in Vanity Fair for an essay contest. It looked interesting, so I wrote an essay and sent it in. The three winners are in this month's magazine (not me) so now I can finally put my essay here in my blog. They asked us to define our national reality. To be more specific: In a country defined by video games, reality TV, and virtual friendships, with a White House that has perfected the art of politics as public relations, what is reality to Americans today? And did we ever have a grasp of it?

Sacred Image
Not being religious, it seems incongruous that I would pray to anything. Lately, however, Ive felt the need to create a physical icon of sorts on which to bestow power so that when I touch it or even look at it I am snapped into a magical present tense moment where I tune into my personal, authentic reality with its inconsistencies of youthful optimism and existential crises, fierce independence and tribal contentment. Those dichotemies move through me moment to moment as I experience the sensory overload of living in the new America. I need a way out...or maybe a way in. Why? Because the most potent force in the world today--juxtaposing the phantom false gods of American society and its religion of fear--is the power of my connection to those in my immediate world that I have come to trust.

Touching my powerful icon wakes me up from a long Rumpelstiltskin slumber where good and evil, right and wrong, black and white, were easy to differentiate and I believed in public figure heroes and the power of recycling. I could keep my children safe and a doctors first priority was my health and well-being. All my neighbors were sane and normal behind closed doors. I could work at the same company for 30 years and then trust that retirement and social security would support me for the rest of my days. I could actually save the whales.

I awake to a world where power, money, greed, and narcissism have risen like cream to the top of the jar and what was once hidden in the dark underbelly of society (that I could deny or ignore by claiming ignorance) is totally accessible. I am free to indulge in a feast of human flaws for entertainment, become numb to images of violence, and read about the corruption of sports heroes, politicians, religious leaders and neighborhood teachers. I hear my leaders tell me that I should trust them to protect me. With my new found clarity, I cannot. There are many Americans like me. So how did we get here? I got here by using the enemy of the Lords of Spin: the Internet. No one owns information anymore.

The Internet has both ruined and saved me. Innocence is lost and will never come back because I can read and see everything. But the chance to connect with kindred spirits through blogs, email and, yes...even reality TV, is the stuff that takes me out of the ethnocentrism of American life, as modeled by our one-nation-under-God leaders, and lets me see that I am not alone in my perceptions. There are actually others out there who think like I do. But is that enough?

The cyber world, a palimpsest of spin, shows only glimpses of our previous existence. My icon is the only connection to it. Even dictionary definitions of icon convey the dilemna of today's reality. An icon can be either a sacred image or a stylized image displayed on a microcomputer screen. Just as I can assign any icon I want to parts of the cyber reality, I can use virtual information to polarize and categorize people so that I may judge them and dislike them and use them as scapegoats, blamed for a wide range of personal and societal problems: Its the religious right, those red states, the Bush dynasty, the oil companies, the blindness of patriotism, the Moral Majority, the John Birchers, the United Fruit Company, Joe McCarthy, Hitler, and Genghis Khan who are to blame. Its their fault we are not living in a peaceful Utopia. Its the Islamic Terrorists, the waffling Liberals, the Godless, the Gays, the Hippies, the disrespect of authority, the Unions, the Welfare State, the Communists, Joan of Arc, the heretics, and all those who defy the status quo who are keeping us from living in a safe, secure, patriarchal world.

Just like Neo in The Matrix, as I surf the internet I see illusion and reality shifting as the Empire creates its own version of reality. It is so powerful that the only way to survive is to go underground and create my own. So I make my icon. I decide what will be sacred. Looking around me I see local people going to New Orleans to clean up and rebuild homes for everyday Americans whose lives were touched by tragedy. I see firemen and rescue workers at Ground Zero thinking nothing of their own safety as they serve the people who are standing right in front of them. No one checks to see if a person is one of thousands on the terrorist watch list before they offer a helping hand. It is the practical religion of proximity and humanity that my icon shows me.

In my reality people don't care what religion the corner grocery store clerk practices if she is pleasant and helpful. Republicans and Democrats work side by side in offices and don't see each other as demons. Polarities blur in the face of humanity. Small tribes of humans band together for support out of necessity. Under the facade of America's world image as the new aggressor, real Americans are differentiating themselves from the Empire's propaganda to create a grassroots reconnection to what we used to think were America's values back when we were nave and trusting. Only now we go there with eyes wide open...a conscious choice to return to a simpler time, in the midst of a complex and dangerous world.

Although my icon could look like anything, every time I imagine it I see the face of humanity: colorless, borderless and free. It is a timeless vision and a reality that empire-builders rarely grasp.

April 7, 2007
Massive Attack Morning
I was introduced to Massive Attack last year by a friend. This weekend I dug the CDs out and listened to Mezzanine and 100th Window. The reason I did that is that when we were practicing two more of my songs for the CD we all got into this zone and the song went to that place where I hope all my songs eventually go...a kind of transformational space. It was apparent from the comments and looks that all 5 of us went there in our own way. He commented that it reminded him a bit of Massive Attack so I knew I had to revisit those CDs. Of the two CDs my current favorite is 100th Window. And the similarity I feel to what happened in our practice was the percussion/rhythm goes to this place that I can only describe as tribal and primal. Goes right into the heart and soul of me. And the lyrics on this CD are a bit more accessible to me as far as the words transforming me than the lyrics on Mezzanine.

So today it was cold and snowing and I bundled up in winter clothes and added my CD walkman and headphones loaded with Massive Attack. I walked and walked as the biting wind blew in my face, numbing my cheeks, and the tribal beats vibrated through my body. The sun came out while it was still snowing and the flakes fell like little diamonds, sparkling...I started to lose track of the planet as I went deeper into this inner space. Then a chubby robin flew down in front of me and I stopped to watch him/her. He made little bird tracks in the snow, turning his head this way and that to 'listen' for worms but he was probably confused at this late date in the year to see white instead of green and hear only ethereal sounds that worms may send out from the primal depths of the earth until the outer layer thaws again. After he flew away I studied the markings and patterns left by his feet as they had wandered over the street, looking for some kind of meaning in those bird hieroglyphics. The meaning registered only as a feeling with no words attached so I took that with me and walked on, the intro to track 7 matching the sparkling magic of the morning.

January 28, 2007
Two Girls Take a Road Trip to the 30th Anniversary Ann Arbor Folk Festival

We were driving north on I-69 last Friday, drinking Fuji natural artesian water, eating honey mustard potato chips, string cheese and HoHos---which, in hindsight, somehow foreshadowed our experience digesting the eclectic mix of organic, mellow, rocking, controversial, and yes, even heretical performances at the 30th Anniversary Ann Arbor Folk Festival just a mere two and a half hour drive from our home town of Fort Wayne, Indiana. We were excited to be getting off so darn cheap. For fifty bucks total my friend, Linda Swarts, and I got almost-back-row seats in the vertigo section of the newly renovated and acoustically amazing Hill Auditorium on the University of Michigan campus for two nights of music starting at 6:30PM and ending after 11:00PM. Headlining Rufus Wainwright on night one and John Prine on night two and with Jeff Daniels as the MC we got a good deal, averaging out to between five and six bucks for each hour.

One of the more delightful surprises of those music-packed two days was the host, Jeff Daniels, known more as a Hollywood actor in movies like Dumb and Dumber, Terms of Endearment and the critically acclaimed, Oscar nominated, The Squid and the Whale, than as a singer-songwriter. He kept the music coming between acts, as the stage crew set up for each new group, with his smooth folk style guitar picking and lyrics, and a delivery reminiscent of Arlo Guthrie. One of Jeff's more memorable tunes on Friday night was an Alice's-Restaurant-type song about the time his family drove east in an RV and he inadvertently left his wife at a truck stop and finally noticed when one of his sons said, "Where's mom?" The ensuing adventure to get her back was eventually told to the world on the David Letterman show and is now immortalized in song. You can check out his new CD on

Friday night's lineup was so eclectic and powerful that I am at a loss as to where to begin and how much to say about the serendipitous connections and living room intimacy that took place. I'll just start with Millish, a band that is described in the program as a group that "explores the links that connect Irish traditional music with other roots music from around the world-from Scotland and Brittany, Eastern Europe and the Middle East, Spain and America." They delivered a high energy, interesting sound. Ember Swift and her band gave a high-powered show that rocked the house. Her songs, both personal and political, were delivered through her riveting personality and voice. Jackie Greene traveled from sunny California to sing in a strong voice with Dylan-style delivery and lyrics. He played a killer harmonica, amazingly lyrical and true, accompanying himself alternately on guitar and piano. Another guitarist added haunting effects-laden guitar to enhance the songs.

One of the more colorful groups and a real favorite of mine looked like a band of outlaw pirate cowboys. Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams were, to say the least, very entertaining and high energy. Hailing from New York , they played in a seventies folk rock style, more rock than folk. The highlight for me was their Dylan cover of Gates of Eden. Hauntingly spooky and powerful, the song elevated my emotions to the highest of the entire weekend. It reminded me, once again, of the incredible power that can be wielded by emotionally authentic delivery of timeless and lyrically exquisite songs.

My appetite for the headliner performance of Rufus Wainwright, son of long time folk singer-songwriters Louden Wainwright III and Kate McGarrigle, was whetted when his sister, Martha Wainwright, came to the stage. I was first introduced to this family last year when I saw I'm Your Man, the musical tribute to Canadian poet and songwriter, Leonard Cohen. Rufus, Martha and Kate were all featured on the DVD singing great versions of Cohen songs. This movie led me to google Rufus, and to discover, and then travel to, this Folk Festival, wanting to hear more of their performances. Martha, Rufus's younger sister, has a unique, emotionally powerful and unusual singing style. Her delivery of Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole, supposedly written about her father was right at home in Ann Arbor, a refreshingly left-of-center town. An added surprise for all of us was Kate, her mother, walking on the stage halfway through Martha's set to accompany her daughter on piano and accordion for three songs.

After a brief intermission the Japanese Taiko drumming group, Kiyoshi Nagata Ensemble took the stage, with flair. The centerpiece of the group, a drummer dressed only in what I would describe as the Japanese version of a thong beat on a huge drum about five feet in diameter while four other drummers beat their smaller drums with acrobatic-style movements. Of course, when Jeff Daniels came out to introduce Rufus Wainwright after the drummers left the stage, he had to say, "Maybe I should come out in a thong!" Knowing that Rufus is openly gay, I was not surprises when he swooned over the muscular body of the drummer.

Even though Rufus was jetlagged and just in from Europe, admitting that he was a bit spaced out, he delivered, with his clear, strong voice and his virtuoso piano playing, one great song after another, including one he wrote for the soundtrack of Brokeback Mountain. Then he switched to guitar and Martha came out to harmonize on several songs. But the intimacy of the evening increased when his mother, Kate, came out to play one of her own beautiful songs on the piano as Rufus sang it. Before she started, though, she told a story about how 33 years before she had been in Ann Arbor with a friend and was feeling a bit sick. So she went to the doctor and discovered she was pregnant...with Rufus. She came down from Canada for today's show to hear both her kids perform and they asked her to play with them, and it was a real treat for those of us in the audience to not only experience this talented family but to share in their personal stories. After the song finished Kate said that she had actually written that song in Ann Arbor many years ago. Then things went up another notch when Martha came out and all three performed together...a magical, intimate experience. Rufus finished the evening with more piano and original songs, coming back for an encore after a long standing ovation from those of us who did not yet want to leave the hall.

I wouldn't say that the evening was technically perfect. There were some guitars out of tune, lyrics forgotten and human imperfections apparent, but that's the great part of folk music. It's about real people, playing real music, sometimes making mistakes but always having fun and celebrating music: a sweet relief from the same old manufactured and manicured bands we are fed over and over on the airways promoted by the now too powerful and too profit-conscious record companies. Long live folk music and the venues that support it!

After a fun day walking around Ann Arbor Saturday we got to the auditorium right at 6:30 and the RDF Boys were warming up the entering crowd, for the second night. Interestingly they were playing one of Louden Wainwright's more famous tunes: Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road. Just like Friday night, the evening started with shorter sets by local favorites, this time it was Daisy May, a singer-songwriter from Big Rapids, Michigan. Then Terri Hendrix and Lloyd Maines from Texas performed a few songs. She is known as "an Ani DiFranco with a down-home Texas perspective." I warmed up to Bill Staines, singer guitarist from New England, after a few songs, as his gentle voice and folkie grace settled me down. I found out from reading the program that this gray-haired old-time musician's songs have been made popular by other singers like Nancy Griffith who is known for singing his song, Roseville Fair.

One of my two favorite performers of the evening was Mississippi-born Paul Thorn, son of a Pentecostal Preacher who, as he told the story that night, put him up on the pulpit at tent revivals when he was three years old and had him sing to start the evening. But he was obviously not Pentecostal any more, which I gathered by his road-rage style song about whoopin' asses and taking names. Laced with redneck-style humor I could see how just his voice, guitar and in-your-face lyrics earned him the title of "modern wild-man of southern soul music." He told us the story of how he rose to 9th in the country in heavyweight boxing only to be beat to a pulp by Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran on national television. Then he sang us a song about it.

My other favorite group of the night was Mountain Heart, a high energy bluegrass band with amazing performances on fiddle, banjo, guitar, mandolin and bass. They were a happy, talented and fun group of guys who were very easy on the eye as well. Their newest addition, a singer-songwriter and guitarist, Josh Shilling, performed his original ballad, Who's the Fool Now, and sounded (according to my friend, Linda) like a young extra-good version of Vince Gill. On Mountain Heart's website it tells how he received a standing ovation at the Grand Ole Opry a few weeks ago at his debut performance with the band. Virtuoso mandolin player, Adam Steffey, has earned multiple Grammys over the years. Check out their website for his extensive list of awards and accomplishments. It was amazing to watch, courtesy of my binoculars (which I remembered to bring this night) the banjo player, who plays with no fingers on his left hand, just part of a thumb. I could go on and on about this group, but let me just say that my energy level doubled during their performance. I would highly recommend seeing them live if you ever get the chance.

The only disappointment for me was the group that played just before John Prine. Over the Rhine hails from Cincinnati and when I read in the program that they have been compared to U2 and the Cowboy Junkies, both favorites of mine, I was very jazzed to hear them. But the songs seemed to lack the emotional connection I had consistently felt from the other musicians. The female lead singer, in contrast to all the previous jeans-wearing folkie-looking musicians and the casual MC, was wearing a nice dress with nylons and was backed by a drummer, keyboardist and bass player, all wearing fancy suits and shiny shoes. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against dressing up, but in this case it was a metaphor for my experience of the music. They came off sounding like a nice lounge act, but for me they lacked personally authentic lyrics and a delivery that connects to my mind or emotions which is the bedrock of good folk music. We took a break half way through their set to stretch our legs before the headliner, John Prine.

What can I say? John Prine is John Prine. He is old and shaky, with a rough weathered voice, but still knows how to deliver both amusing but simple tunes always left of center, and also hauntingly beautiful ballads. Ironically for me John was backed by a guitarist and bass player also dressed to the nines. Even more so than the last band. While John was wearing Johnny Cash style basic black, the bass player and guitarist were wearing slick shiny suits and white shirts and the guitarist also sported a red tie and slicked back nicely trimmed hair...a sort of corporate mafia look. With the two men standing, one on either side of John, it reminded me of Robert Palmer's famous video with the cloned red lipstick girls. It was a cartoonish visual, and again contrasted a bit from the engaging folk vibe of the rest of the weekend. But it was the end of two very full days and we were tired and faced a long, cold, snowy drive back to Fort Wayne. I was antsy to get on the road so we slipped out a few songs before the end of the show and headed south, drinking spring water, eating string cheese and Milky Way candy bars.

I keep thinking how grateful I am for the Ark, the intimate venue in Ann Arbor that has sponsored this folk festival for so many years. Their commitment to providing quality entertainment in the region is well known and David Siglin, Program Director and President, spoke each night, thanking all the sponsors who made it possible for them to have the festival at the Hill Auditorium, as well as hosting performances 300 nights of the year in the Ark's smaller venue, allowing old and new and emerging artists to be heard. You should really check out their website: and take the road trip north some day. Many of the groups who performed at this year's festival are scheduled to do shows at the Ark this year. It is definitely worth the drive.

September 5, 2006
Dylan Road Trip 1988

After a '70s filled with hitchhiking, communes, trips up the Alcan highway to Alaska, outdoor music festivals with Led Zepplin, the Doors, Santana, the Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Country Joe and the Fish and way more, I had a child in 1979 and became a single mom struggling to survive on welfare. I went back to school and got my teaching certificate and was hired to start teaching elementary school in a mostly white upper middle class district in the suburbs of Seattle. I would be starting in August of 1988, to set up my classroom, so I was sensing the loss of the last remnants of my imaginary freedom.

Then the Gorge at George, Washington, on the Columbia River at a Winery in Mid-eastern Washington announced they were moving from small acoustic and jazz performances at their outdoor amphitheatre, to their first rock concert ever: Tracy Chapman opening for Bob Dylan. I knew I had to go but could find no one to go with me. So I decided to have one last fling before school started, and I bought one ticket, packed up my powder blue Pinto and drove across the Cascade Mountains to the Gorge Amphitheater. It was June 1988, I was poor, overwhelmed with responsibilities and alone, but still felt the stirrings of my gypsy spirit calling me to experience a connection with the words and music that cut through time, space and illusion to let me know that I was not alone in my world view.

Once there, it was quite apparent that the Winery had not anticipated the organization that it would take to handle huge numbers of cars (parking in grassy fields in random ways, with no lights after dark to find your car), massive consumption of alcohol, and facilities to make it comfortable to wait in the hot sun on the grassy terraces for the show to start as soon as the sun was setting. I spread out my blanket and food and watched progressively drunk people stagger around and turn increasingly red with sunburn, and increasingly crazy with dehydration.

But once the late afternoon sun settled over the Columbia River Gorge and the air went from stunningly hot to crispy cool, the restless natives started to settle down. I will never forget the experience I had as the setting sun threw brilliant colors over the Columbia River Gorge, turning the wispy clouds into brush strokes of color, and Tracy Chapman and her acoustic guitar walked on the stage and started to play with no other musicians. She was spectacular and amazing singing Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution. The mix was clear as a bell, warm and powerful in its starkness and spoke volumes to the presence that she brought alone, to that stage, with just her music and words and voice.

By the time Dylan came on it was maybe an hour until blackness and he sped onto the stage with his rock band and they started playing songs really fast and loud, the words running together in a growl that I could not understand. I would definitely have stayed for the whole show had I not gotten a strong intuitive and paranoid hit that things were going to be very crazy when the show was over. So about an hour into his set, I packed up and searched for my car and finally found it, meandered thru fields of randomly parked cars and until I found a way out to the main road and, in the darkness, headed back across the flat middle of Washington toward the Cascade Mountains.

It wasn't until the next day that I found out my intuition had saved me from a nightmare experience (drunken chaos and a stabbing death in the parking lot), but my adventures were not yet over that night. I stopped in Cle Elum at a small cafe, after midnight, for a burger and some pie to tide me over, before heading up the pass to cross the Cascades. At about 2:00 AM, as I started the descent on the western slope of the pass, in almost total darkness, my motor stopped running and I coasted to a stop at the side of the highway. Feeling like I was still in the middle of a serendipitous adventure, fuelled by the buzz of too much sun and not quite enough music, there I was, in the era before cell phones and wireless internet, in the dark, surrounded by mountains and forest with a broken Pinto. I figured that eventually the concert would be over and there might be a stream of cars headed back to Seattle who might be amenable to picking up a lone girl on a dark road.

Sure enough, after about an hour, a few headlights started winding down toward me, and I stuck out my thumb. A car pulled over containing four guys who had been to see Dylan. They offered to drive me all the way home. I jumped in, leaving the Pinto for my call to AAA once the sun came up. Once we were on our way, someone lit up and offered me a toke, which I declined, being a responsible single mom. True to their word, they drove for an hour right to my door and happily wished me well.

Soon I had my car towed, repaired, and was on my way to ten years as a school teacher. But I got to hold on to that adventure, which was such a flashback (outdoor concerts, hitching home from a Dylan concert and being offered a high from strangers) to my itinerant '60s and early '70s life.

And now here I am, my daughter grown and living on the west coast, buying my Dylan tickets on the internet, connecting with friends by cell phone who are going to get in early and save seats at Fort Wayne's Wizard Stadium, a working car, a steady job I love, and still the thrill in my heart in anticipation of getting a hit of timeless, live music and lyrics that connect with world view and my soul.

A Bit of a Bio

One of my earliest memories was in a tree above a cranberry bog on the twenty acres surrounding my parents' rented house, throwing balled up wonder dough to my dog, Pudgy. I always believed that when I grew up he would turn into a prince and we would marry, but that was only the first of many times my imagination betrayed me. He was killed by a car when I was thirteen and almost immediately my hormones kicked in and I turned to my own species for comfort.

Growing up in what eventually became the suburbs east of Seattle, I worked my way through the public school system, and then the University of Washington, until I had a bachelors degree in anthropology. I immediately headed north to Alaska and spent many years on Kodiak Island in the town of the same name.

Returning to the Pacific Northwest, I was raised by my beautiful, intelligent and talented daughter. I left teaching in the public schools as soon as my daughter graduated from high school. Then I began studying audio engineering and midi production at Shoreline Community College. After a year and a half my money ran out, so I started working for a large, internet retailer right in the heart of downtown Seattle. When the pace became too hectic, I packed my bags and headed for the Midwest. I called Indiana home for nine years and spent my time writing, playing music, hanging out with friends and healing my psyche...I worked at an arts non-profit for five years as Director of Grants and now am headed back to the Northwest to live in Portland Oregon.

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