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Star Belle Ukulele Band

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You wanna be inspired?

The Scale House.

The Scale House.

We met at the Scale House yesterday morning to talk about family. I sat in the chair where Orville used to sit drinking coffee with a plaque on the wall honoring his dedication to York County Agriculture. I took notes with a view of the home place out the window and the feed lot to the north. I'm writing a song for their family and wanted to meet to hear some stories from Mike and Jan. At the end of it, Mike and I got in the feed truck and he let me ride along while we filled the thing with 13,000 pounds of a cattle "muesli." 

The feed truck.

The feed truck.

I learned things about cattle, about Orville and Ruth and the home they built for their kids. And then I learned about their kids honoring their folks with their own families and lives. If you want to be inspired, start talking to people about where they came from and the legacy they love. If you want to be inspired, clear your schedule, pour yourself a cup of coffee and just have a conversation for the sheer pleasure of hearing someone's story and being reminded of how beautiful the little things in life are. Feed truck optional.

Then it was the lunch crowd at Chez Bubba Cafe, just like most days. Only the crowd didn't make it for lunch. I swept the floor, rolled the silverware, refilled BBQ sauces and waited a few tables before heading over to Lincoln to meet up with my buddy, Mike Semrad, and shoot a music video.

The set 11/9/17

The set 11/9/17

We met up and set up and recorded a cover song, "Pale Fire" by Amanda Shires. Hopefully it gets a placement on TheBoot.com sooner than later. Stay tuned for more. We spent the afternoon talking shop and rehearsing before cutting the tune. It was so fun. Lately I've been collaborating with instrumental artists and am loving these new musical conversations. We don't really know each other very well, but we start playing songs and speaking the same language and it is magical. You wanna be inspired? Call up a friend, get out your instruments and start playing. Sing together on the chorus and remember how great it is to send some harmony up into the heavens on a weekday afternoon. Forget about all that stuff you've gotta do and make time for something that will fill you up and remind you what you're here for. 

You wanna be inspired? Don't wait for magic to find you while you're busy doing something else. Instead, make yourself available in a space where magic just bubbles up into your living room. It happens when we set aside the clutter (the phone) and create an opportunity for listening and responding, and for curiosity. Magic loves curiosity. 

This week has been filled with it. You know what Star Belle did the night before? We taught a ukulele class at a Brewery. You know what that was?  It was 20 people coming together, stopping all the other stuff in their lives and giving themselves the gift of music, of curiosity, of togetherness and good beer. We all walked away happy and a little lighter than before.

You wanna be inspired? 

Think about it.

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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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Star Belle goes to Iowa City and then comes home again

Star Belle usually meets for practice at one of our houses once a week or once every two weeks. We work on our songs, manage the kids, have a beer and then dash off to our next thing. Our busy season is usually in the summer during town festivals and fairs, and then we might do a few shows around the holidays. We sing folk and country songs with guitars and ukuleles. A couple of times we went to Denver for a ukulele music festival. It was super cool.

Star Belle has to juggle kids and families and jobs. We sing songs about love and fun and life in Nebraska. We've made local news, local newspapers and the Nebraska Life Magazine. We play almost exclusively in Nebraska and we have lots of fun doing it.

This past weekend the band went on a field trip to Iowa City for Folk Alliance Region Midwest's annual conference. We wanted to dip our toes into that pond, play some private showcases and see if people connected with our work across state lines. We think people connected to the music.

It was awesome. We had so much fun. We played our songs and people liked them. We heard tons of inspiring music and we got excited for the future and where it'll take us. It was exhausting like it always is and uplifting as it always is and we're home now and excited to get to work making plans and making those plans a reality. We always say how much we love band practice. Band field trips are even better!

I went to FARM as a solo performer also (two hats, one conference). A couple of days before the conference I was on a run down a long dirt road and this thought hit me, "I need a champion." I just need one person who believes in my work and has a voice and platform bigger than mine. If I had a champion, then that could help me get somewhere. 

Two days later I'm standing in my driveway with my bags and guitar and conference crap scattered around me and what do you think I get? An unexpected email from someone telling me exactly how they'd like to help me make my music because they believe in the work I'm doing. 

SAY. WHAT??!!That pretty much blew my mind. It still is kinda hard to believe such generosity showed up at my door of its own accord.

At the conference I had two different artists and friends of mine tell me they've been watching my work and following my story. It was a gift to hear their words and receive their encouragement. Over here where I live there are lots of dirt roads, everything's on a grid and, presently, I find myself at a crossroads trying to make the moves I need to make to get a little further down the way. Just when I'm feeling lost and questioning whether or not to turn around, a kind note, a voice from a friend, a surprise pat on the back appears out of nowhere and I find the strength to keep going. Thanks, everybody.

I'm home now. I've got kids and church and band practice and work and bugs by the garage door. I'm meditating on the love of others freely given and praying for wisdom to know how to honor it well. And also find where the bugs are coming from. 

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