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Sam Baker


Folk Alliance 2018 recap (before I forget or fall asleep)

Peter Mulvey, Kyshona and Mary Bragg in The Minnesota Room

Peter Mulvey, Kyshona and Mary Bragg in The Minnesota Room

We said farewell to Kansas City at the end of the conference. Next year the folk show travels up to Montreal and maybe that's why it felt urgent and frenzied and full to the brim with creativity, promise and inspiration.

It was coffee and beer and quick and hellos and goodbyes in the Century Lobby. It was taking the stairs at 2am first up to the rooftop, along the edge of the building, past the smokers and then two more flights up to the music. It was upright basses and posters hung with painters tape covering up the hotel wallpaper to create its own hippies/hipster patchwork quilt for the weekend decorations.

It was magic whiddled together with chorus and verse and boy, were there some doozies! I'm a songwriter in love with songwriters. It means I gravitate to the lone wolves getting it done with a voice and guitar. There were amazing ensemble acts bringing high enery high jinks and magnificent examples of arrangement, harmony and mood, but man, gimme the human with the words and the guitar. I need it.

Here are my humans from FAI 2018:

Bob Hillman- I kept telling everyone how much I loved his word choice. He's using a whole other vocab and set of imagery than I am and it really was inspiring and so beautiful. He's great. Lost Soul is the record from 2016. You should get it.

Kyshona- My roommate and new friend bringing powerhouse vocals oozing with heart and soul singing songs that bring people together in the best way possible so we're singing the chorus and feeling the moment as one. She sings the kind of songs that make you feel strong, that make you feel like you might just have what it takes to change the world and it's contagious. That's priceless and I loved it.

Ben Hanna- He's doing something completely his own and when you hear his songs you are torn between laughing and crying all in the same line. He's fearless and where it's at. He's funny and singular. I love his work and I hope he keeps writing 'em.

Ben Hanna in the Rocky Mountain, Conscious Alliance Suite

Ben Hanna in the Rocky Mountain, Conscious Alliance Suite

Jana Pochop- Oh my goodness. I got to hear her live. I got to sit on the bed while she sang her songs. She did her epic folk rap and sang it out as an anthem for all of us and it made me cry. It was so wonderful. I'm so grateful to have been there.  She is a wordsmith, she is fearless, she is doing the thing no matter what and I love her for it.

Todd Adelman- he's country. He usually plays with a band, but I heard him solo. And I think he should play solo more often. His work is gritty and true and beautiful.

Sam Baker- forget about it. (Meaning I don't even know where to begin, his work is so stunningly beautiful in the starkness of it's clear, perfect language...and I finally got up the guts to talk to him)

Gretchen Peters- I was so looking forward to hearing her again. She taught at the Song School a few years back and I fell in love with her writing. I was sitting up in the front row when she sang "The Matador" this weekend and got teary-eyed. She's a gem.

Matt the Electrician- he's a Texan that I try never to miss at FAI because that's the only time I get to hear him. He's another one whose brain is so different than mine that I love to hear what he writes.

And then there are the friends, the dear ones who are doing it and fighting for it and we cheer each other on as we go: Katie Dahl, Emily White, Mary Bragg (Official Showcase for FAI 2018), Jane Godfrey, Sue Fink, Heather Styka, Sarah Sample, Mare Wakefield and Nomad, Cat Terrones, Ben Shannon, Shanna in a dress, Korby Lenker, Mike Semrad and more more more.

Katie Dahl, Hope Dunbar, Emily White (we go on tour together in a few weeks!

Katie Dahl, Hope Dunbar, Emily White (we go on tour together in a few weeks!

It was talking in the hallways, walking more than I ever imagined, volunteer shifts in the early morning after a very late night, scavenging for food, taking the free streetcar downtown, a KC sunset, talking with the roommates at 3am, heart to hearts at just the right moment with just the right person like it was planned for me or something, rethinking my footwear, singing my guts out, laughing with the Conscious Alliance guys (the funniest moment of FAI), putting on a dress and trying to be present for all of it, Sue Fink telling that story about her first EP, watching Mary kill it on stage, meeting up with Kerrville family here and there and everywhere, finally seeing Union Station (who knew?!), free beer, shots of tequila, learning new abbreviations for things that made me clutch my pearls and all the things. So great.

And now I'm back. Just like that, Cinderella is back to the grind, helping with the science project, folding laundry and trying to think of what to make for dinner. I'm grateful for all of it. I love being a musician, but I love it when I take the cape off and become just me over here in Utica doing the deal.

Are you entertaining ideas of grandeur? Are you thinking you're the only adult still wishing on stars? You aren't. I just came back from a meeting of the dreamers and the wishers and the misfit toys. If you're wondering whether or not you have permission to do what feels scary or do what your heart is begging for you to do, well, go right ahead, my friend. You are not alone.



I probably need more time to process

I probably need more time to process the last 5 days in Kansas City, but I've a list the length of my arm of things that need done and so, now's my chance, so now's the time.

I took pictures of the musicians up on stage, but I took zero photos of the musicians hanging out, talking, switching between coffee and water and beer all day and living off of showcase room snacks and the occasional food truck taco. 

We sat and played songs out by the fountain in the square beside the hotel, we got in a quick conversation over breakfast sandwiches in the food court before reporting to our volunteer assignments, we took a shuttle to the children's hospital to sing songs for the patients, we learned real quick how to ditch the elevators and take the stairs up to the showcase floors and we got the guts up to say hello to people we thought were cool. I worried about my clothes and what I looked like. I learned that I need to get new shoes.

We gave a quick hug when we had the chance encounter with a friend. At Folk Alliance you just never know how much time you'll be given to touch base with anyone in the midst of the folk storm so you take the opportunity when it comes knocking. 

Before driving home yesterday after my last volunteer shift, I caught the second half of Steve Poltz's set. If there's any swan song perfect for the end of an amazing week of music, Steve Poltz can sing it. Folk Alliance has moments of wonder and moments of feeling lost. I experienced both. Steve Poltz was inspiring and joyful and he made me smile after all of it. 

My mind is inclined toward the dark sometimes and so when I got home I tried to write down all the good things that happened so as not have them disappear. That list includes all the friends I got to see and hear and who came to listen to me. That means so much. It includes discoveries- Cory Branan (pre-order his new album. Just do it), and favorites- Sam Baker and Vance Gilbert. I missed Kris Kristofferson, I missed Ani DiFranco but I did hear Billy Bragg talk.  I didn't get the guts up to talk to Sam Baker, but I listened transfixed and he made me cry. I saw my friend, Korby Lenker, make everyone sit up and take notice at his official showcase. I left that ballroom thinking his days of crashing on people's couches are numbered. He was incredible and it was so fun to watch him be so good up there. 

I have to remember the good things because driving home, I started thinking about the hard things. Being surrounded by fellow artists is so cool and also so scary. It makes you (and by "you" I mean "me") look  in the mirror and wonder if you're good enough, if you've got any chance at getting anywhere beyond where you are right now. It makes you wonder where you fit in this collection of voices, in this collection of stories. The long drive home in the quiet and the exhaustion tends to want to turn our dresses back into rags, our princes into frogs.

That's why I wrote down all the good stuff.. So as not to forget, even in the midst of the hard stuff, there is reason to give thanks. Today I'm playing music all day long and then tutoring a third grader in German. Tomorrow I'm going to work the lunch shift. I hope you write down the good stuff that comes your way. Especially if you're like me and you tend to forget. It's everywhere.