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Emily Dunbar

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The New American Prairie School

It was about a year ago that I started writing songs and throwing them up on Facebook haphazardly. I needed a way to stay accountable. I needed the feeling of vulnerability and I was trying to honor the idea of not over-thinking the work, just throw it out and see what sticks. 

Yesterday I took a moment to look back on some of the songs and I thought that the collection of Facebook songs could  be an album. It's kinda sloppy, real authentic and a little all over the place. I like it. What I like is that each song is such a moment in time. I'm a pretty fast writer so listening to the songs puts me right back in that small moment in time and what I was thinking about or doing on a particular day. When people ask how I came up with an idea for a song, I usually don't have a clear memory of it, but I do have a clear memory of what was going on that day outside of the song. That makes each piece kinda like a treasure map. Like that movie where The Constitution has a map written in invisible ink on it that you can only see with special glasses that Ben Franklin hid in a bell tower back in the 1700s. That's what it's like.

In looking through the songs, I noticed a comment from a friend saying that I need to create a new genre called  "The New American Prairie" style. I had forgotten that, but I spent yesterday thinking about it and how I would like to start my own genre, now that you mention it. Connie is a smart cookie so I'm going to listen to her and do it. The New American Prairie style is simple, conversational and rooted in every day life. What we lack in scenery, we make up for in honesty.

The New American Prairie artists are working with what they've got, making something out of nothing and showing up for the art when the sun comes up. In Nebraska we joke that our state motto should be, "Nebraska: Bring something to do" and that's exactly what the NAP writers do. Because in considering my own genre, I thought immediately of fellow NAP artists. Emily Dunbar- telling the story of life in a small town raising a family and finding beauty in the every day moments. Andy Miller- part folkie/ part sad guy country artist laying his heart out on the line in a voice all his own. Gunter Volker- telling stories and weaving rhymes that put the listener in 1926 and then put the listener back in 2016 with a gentle confidence only a great wordsmith can manage , and then his band, Jack Hotel, turns them into amazing journeys of sound and song. Ben Freeman- lighting a candle for truth tellers everywhere and unapologetically narrating darkness and loneliness, the kind that's hardest to handle on the plains. Star Belle Ukulele Band sings itself out of the chains over and over again. Star Belle falls down, then writes itself back up on its feet. That's what a pioneer does. That's what we do. And me? I try and write cool lines and then get lost in stupid metaphors I can't pull off. Then three days later I ask myself, "What are you trying to say?" And I remember that whatever it is I'm trying to say, well, then, those are the lines. Use that. Stop trying to be a poet and just be honest and clunky instead. Stop planning, and just start digging. That's what the prairie is all about.

Now we need to get together. We need a hoot, we need some beers, we need the school to be in session. We already are. We're doing our thing and running into each other every once in a while. We're just being us. We don't know how to be anything else. Remember. You heard it here first. Thanks, Connie.

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Todd Snider doesn't set goals, but I do.

Emily and I came back from St. Louis yesterday afternoon after playing a couple of shows. It was awesome. 

Over the past year or so, the two of us had shared in many road trips and we've got a rhythm going for how the thing goes down. We pack up the car, we fill the travel coffee mugs, we kiss the kids goodbye and we get in my mini-van or sometimes we get in her mini-van. We start driving and start goofing off, making jokes, taking turns playing DJ and share in in-depth conversations on the problems with the the pop Country songs we hear on the radio. Or we gush over how Kasey Musgraves is killing it or we yell at the stereo when a really good song comes on and say, "Geez! Save some for the rest of us!"

We talk about what we're missing back at home, what our husbands are left to manage in our absence and then we get to the gig.

This weekend's gigs were at an awesome art gallery in LaFayette Square called 1900 Park. WE met up with our friends Bryan Ranney and Eric Barnes. They opened the show for us and then, after the show was over, we passed the guitar around and sang songs and admired each other's work. They are such talented songwriters! Eric Barnes is one of my very favorites for his sad understated honesty.

Then we played at Concordia Seminary for the Seminary Womens Association. It was so much fun. It was fun because Emily and I both lived what those women were living. Our husbands went to Seminary, we worked and had babies and were really poor. It was a homecoming and it was like sitting with a bunch of people we'd known for a long time. We walked in the room and ten minutes later we were all old friends and it was great.

Then we drive back. On the way back we're tired and we've given in the craving for fountain drinks and candy. We talk about the good times that were  had and then we talk goals. The drive home is for goals  and next step planning. We do it every time. I like it. I like re-focusing my energy every few weeks or months- especially since life can pull in so many different directions and get blurry. 

So we talked goals. We come up with plans and remember what we're working toward. It's good. We pull into the drive way, we unpack the car, we put stuff in her car, she fills up her water and drives the hour it takes to get to her house. It was a great trip. We saw lots of friends and family, but it's great to be home. Now on to reaching those goals.

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