September 2, 2012

let’s take a walk on the bridge / right over this mess

I’m sitting by my window watching a late summer storm brew and foment. The thunder is rolling in the distance as tree branches thrash around in the wind; all the humidity and grey heaviness of this afternoon is finally ready to break. The line I just sang to myself in the quiet kitchen, without thinking, was “a big old hurricane / she’s blowing our way…” This song keeps following me around (because Patty Griffin pens some of the best songs around, anywhere) to keep reminding me of stubborn lessons.

The version that always gets me is The Local Strangers‘ take on it, and the way that the hurricane of Aubrey Zoli absolutely owns this song, invoking that gospel certainty as she raises her arms and sings the truth. I watched Matt and Aubrey slay this song at silvery sunset on the beach at Doe Bay Fest a few Sundays ago, and it was one of the purest and most stunning moments of the fest for me. For as many times as I hear them perform this song (they often end their shows with it), I always get chills — every time.

We keep waving and waving our arms in the air, but we’re all tired out.

Forgiveness (Patty Griffin) – The Local Strangers
(from the above Redwood Sessions video)

[Brandon Milner captured that moment on the beach. I was probably too busy crying or something]

August 23, 2012

really, i’m not ready

When Seattle folk songwriter Noah Gundersen decided to cover Vic Chesnutt’s “Flirted With You All My Life” very late one night at this year’s Doe Bay Fest, it felt surreal. A bunch of us had gathered for a secret show after midnight on the field, lit by a few torches stuck in the grass. Noah sat next to Daniel Blue (Motopony), John Roderick (The Long Winters), and Bobby Bare Jr., and each songwriter took turns singing songs out into the darkness. Daniel stood up and sang one completely a cappella, his vibrato piercing the night like an unearthly arrow.

The Perseid meteor shower was showing off in earnest overhead, and I was sitting with a musician whose work I deeply appreciate, our heads craned back to see the flashes and streaks of dying stars above. We were there on an island accessible only by boat. The ocean stretched black and blending with the sky around us.

I was ambushed, then, as he sang.

Flirted with you all my life
even kissed you once or twice
even though I thought it was nice
I know, I’m not ready

When you touched a friend of mine
I thought I would lose my mind
though I found out with time
indeed, I was not ready

oh death, oh death, oh death
really, I’m not ready

when my mom was cancer-sick
she fought but then succumbed to it
but you made her beg for it
lord Jesus, I’m not ready

oh death, oh death, oh death
really, I’m not ready

It’s hard to write about the incongruous force I felt in that moment of wanting to stave off death like the song says, without sounding maudlin. But saturated as we were in late-summer-night happiness, feeling so damn young and so damn alive — this song was like a small plea out to the gaping universe. What is it about August that fools us sometimes into thinking that we’re untouchable? If ever there was a setting for believing in lies, it was this one.

The rueful smile on Noah’s face in this video as he sang, well it just hits me in the center. We know what’s waiting; while we flirt with each other and open-mouth kiss this life, we know. All of us wished, I think, that maybe the nastiness of death would just forget about us all there on that speck of land in the sea for another day, another summer. Another year.

I’m not ready.

You can listen to Noah Gundersen’s EP here; he blew all of us away during his regular sets at the fest as well, when not covering amazing songs on a firelit field. A solid (“highly-touted“) talent, with clever sharp phrasing and a commanding voice that makes you stop what you are doing and listen:

I haven’t been able to string together a review of the weekend yet; I think it will come out in trickles. Megan from the Music vs Misery blog and Adam from the Songs For The Day blog also came as part of our group this year, and their reviews are much more cogent and compelling than I am capable of assembling right now. I also agree with everything they wrote, so let’s just pretend they’re mine. Easy.

[the photo of the starry night above us that night was taken by Natalie Kardos, and the video was captured by Eratosthenes Fackenthall, by a scintillating stroke of kismet.]

November 28, 2011

welcome to doe bay

This past August I spent five days at one of the most incredible, tightly-knit, music-saturated festivals I have ever been a part of. You might remember my raves about The Doe Bay Fest, a small homegrown festival on an island in the San Juans with a radiantly breathless air of magic — pure and simple. There is a new independent documentary in the works which tries to chronicle and identify what makes this festival amazing and so necessary in music today.

Welcome To Doe Bay looks at this phenomenal confluence of artists and attendees with no boundaries, and delves into how festivals like this one –at least to hear me say it in the interview I gave for the filmmakers– just might save the world, or, at least, save our musical souls. I forgot to meet with the directors during the fest because I was too busy running all over the island seeing jaw-dropping music from the time I woke up until long past when I should have been in bed, so they arranged for me to sit for an interview for the film on a sunny Ballard afternoon the day after the fest, to give a perspective as a music-lover from outside the local scene, and my impressions of the weekend. I remember being just glowingly, borderline-incoherently excited about what I had just lived through. I’m not sure how much of what I had to say made it into the film (spoiler: I like to ruminate), but every person and band featured in this documentary gets what makes Doe Bay incredible, and why that kind of organic passion is so, so important in music today.

The documentary is winding up a Kickstarter campaign, and trying to raise enough funds to submit to film festivals like SXSW. I really want to see this love letter of a film completed, and the music industry world of bloat and detachment needs to see what a group of musically committed individuals can accomplish through a festival like this. A donation to their Kickstarter (in these last two crucial weeks – they are so close!) will make a huge difference, and also let you see many of the performances from this last summer in an exclusive look, if you couldn’t be there that weekend. Think of it as your best way to participate in Black-Cyber-Small-Business-spending-day today, and please take a look at the trailer – which just gave me chills to watch again (Pickwick, Kelli Schaefer, The Head and The Heart, Bryan John Appleby, Sera Cahoone, just in the trailer? Yes please I want to go back there).

And if you are an artist, psssst, you should TOTALLY SUBMIT to play the fest in 2012. I guarantee you that it will be the best and most deeply refreshing musical weekend of your year.

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August 18, 2011

magic will do what magic does :: the 2011 Doe Bay Fest

My friend Nick Hornby once wrote something very true and marvelous about a central challenge of human-ness: “Keeping in touch with the things that help us feel alive – music, books, movies, even the theatre, if, mysteriously, you are that way inclined – becomes a battle, and one that many of us lose, as we get older.

We won that battle this past weekend, all weekend long, at the Doe Bay Fest 2011: The Full Moon Festival. With a few hundred other folks for 4 days on Orcas Island in the San Juans, I felt deeply, vibrantly alive. It was like summer camp for adults (and many kiddos) who wanted to touch that thrumming coil of deep goodness that crackles and bursts in live music, if you know where to look and are ready to be stunned by what you find.

Cloudy Shoes – Damien Jurado

I found music around every bend in the road. I ascended a dirt trail at midnight and found Damien Jurado and John Vanderslice playing to a silent circle of folks lit only by the flickering fire of tiki torches. I ducked into a humid nighttime yoga studio and found myself linking arms with Kelli Schaefer and her band and The Head and The Heart, singing a rousing golden version of “Stand By Me.” I wandered through an alder grove to a black-pebbled beach under a full rising moon and watched Ravenna Woods pound out a primal set that made all my blood course hot and pure. I sang a gospel chorus of assurance (“know it’s gonna be alright”) on a crisp Saturday morning on a rocky bluff with Elk & Boar and a crowd of hundreds. I walked away saying, “Did that really happen?!”

I got no problem with massive, whirling, impressive music festivals in all shapes and sizes. I have partaken in my fair share. But the difference here was something quieter and more profound.

As my friends and I looked past the sea spray of the wake left by our ferry as we departed Doe Bay, I think we all felt transformed by music. That is not a common universal sentiment, I find, at many music festivals. I think Doe Bay Fest is onto something here, now in its fourth year as a very organic, do-it-yourself community of musicians and music-lovers, getting together to create something beautiful in this world that is all too often hard and cold.

I think we should be finding and creating and pouring ourselves into hundreds of petite music festivals all over the world that feel like this one. As we challenge the norm, maybe there’s something in there that will save us.

Some new discoveries of Doe Bay 2011:
- Sera Cahoone
- Fly Moon Royalty
- Sean Flinn & the Royal We
- Elk & Boar (“all our hearts just look a bloody mess / they keep us alive, and beat us half to death tonight / but I know we’re gonna be alright)

Favorite moments?
- Pickwick because holyshit
- “Find Me In The Air” with The Builders & The Butchers down amidst the crowd with everyone singing along
- That time I sang my first open mic ever, with Josiah from The Head and The Heart (I am now legit)

The thing I am most sorry I missed:

- Lemolo at the yoga studio (“She sees the world the way she wants…” singalong)

FOR THE EYES: My pictures are over on the Fuel/Friends Facebook Page. The stunningly gorgeous pictures (that capture all the little things of the festival far better than I had patience for) of Sarah Jurado are here.

Only 12 months to go ’til the next one.

Doe Bay Doe Bay!

March 30, 2011

double kickdrum / on the landing in the summer: Doe Bay Fest 2011

A few months ago I was in Florida with the fam (and we may or may not have been wearing matching DisneyWorld shirts that my mom made but that is BESIDE THE POINT, okay? Shut up.) and we were passing the time driving along by playing one of those conversation-question card games like “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” and “What would your ideal birthday party celebration look like?”.

I was answering the latter and found myself describing a birthday party with a ramshackle house on a Pacific beach, filled up with all my favorite friends from all around the world that I never get to see, and yes please some terrific bands and good food. Maybe a setting sun, maybe some ocean breezes and a campfire that left its scent in my hair all night. That would be a good birthday.

I should really do that someday, I thought, for a big milestone birthday. Some August in a few years when I turn a nice round number we’ll really throw down, I thought.

And then — I remembered this:

[watch it large]

Then and there I decided that life is short, and The Doe Bay Fest is undoubtedly good. And there is nowhere I would rather be August 11-14 of this year. So I’ve recruited a dozen friends to help me celebrate and we’ll be there with bug spray on. Sexy!

From everything I’ve heard, the Doe Bay Fest (on Orcas Island in the San Juans, outside Seattle) is the most magical jewelbox of a music festival that you will ever experience. It is super-limited in size (the few hundred tickets will go on sale for $60 on May 1 at 10:00am, and will sell out that day) and located in one of the most gorgeous natural settings you’ll find. A heady spirit of musical joy and collaboration seems to permeate every aspect of the festival. In addition to a stellar official lineup, I am hoping for all of these things: late night campfires, slip and slides, open mic singalongs. This year there is a full moon for the fest weekend, and I can hold my breath for some midnight forest music under the brightly glowing, late summer orb.

The lineup? Well, paradoxically and logically, it isn’t actually announced until June 2. There is a level of trust woven into this festival, and that’s what I love. Trust the organizers that this will be worth it. Previous performers have included The Fruit Bats, David Bazan, The Head and The Heart, Hey Marseilles, Drew Grow & The Pastors’ Wives, Kelli Schaefer, Portland Cello Project, Ravenna Woods, and The Moondoogies. Plus a dozen bands I haven’t heard of but that represent a range of styles, a generous Pacific Northwest bent, and a common (beautiful) spirit.

The Doe Bay Resort? A small, collectively-owned resort that’s accessible only by ferry ride, with a collection of little cabins, yurts, and camping, an organic garden, a yoga studio, and a $2 beer garden. The chef is apparently world-class, serving up delicious organic food all weekend on the cheap. There is plentiful shade and sea and wildlife. The stars come out at night and I am going to lay on my back and watch them, with a big old birthday smile stretched on my face.

Come join us.

[photos credit the marvelous work of Dylan Priest, and Josh Lovseth for Sound on The Sound]

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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