Today, Sue and I departed the town of Wray upon the high plains of eastern Colorado. With the wind at our backs and gravity on our side we drove the six hours to Lincoln for tonight’s concert hosted at Tim and Nancy Anderson’s house for the Lincoln Association for Traditional Arts. Along the way we stopped for a while to watch the migration of snow geese along the Platte River, and I realized that our own tours follow what can be seen as migration routes back and forth across the country. Through the years Nebraska has been one of my favorite places to tour. I always look forward to the quiet drive alongside the Platte and the railroad – to take in the tawny colors of the Plains, and the big sky vistas.
We didn’t know Nancy and Tim before today, but as soon as we met they made us feel at home. Sue and I soon began going through the steps of preparation for our concert. We brought in our instruments, our stands, CD’s, and duffel bags. We then went upstairs for a catnap to allow the vibration of the highway to dissipate. After twenty-minutes or so we emerged refreshed, and ready to sing.
Soon, people started to arrive, and the momentum of the night began. The whole evening of the typical house concert has this marvelous arc. It begins with the hubbub of folks arriving, greeting, and nibbling on hors d’oeuvres. It peaks in the applause and cheering and singing along during the show, and gently winds down with goodnights and goodbyes at the end of the evening.
And every night is so very different. Each room is unique and no two audiences are ever the same. We are always trying out new material and choosing songs and stories that are relevant to where we are. Sue and I play around one hundred concerts a year in all sorts of venues from big festival stages to clubs and coffeehouses, but I think what makes house concerts so unique, and the reason why they are becoming more popular, is that they are so intimate and provide an opportunity for the audience to really connect and talk with the artist and share their own stories as well. House concerts more than any other type of venue are able to create and offer community and bring these sublime experiences into people’s homes.
We love these tours and we love to travel, but from the moment we head out on the road it becomes a challenge to maintain our energy. We say goodbye to regular healthy meals and the daily exercise we get while home. It’s hello to strange beds, stuffy motel rooms and to always having the need to make up sleep wherever we can find it. Life on the road wears one thin around the edges and down to the core. I know this is true for all of us performing songwriters to one degree or another, and I find myself admiring the most those musicians who have longevity in the business.
So I think it’s ironic that just as I’m bone tired and at the end of my rope the most beautiful song will come to me – or we’ll stay with some people who are just so wonderful – or we’ll visit a place that is inspiring and nourishing in a deep and satisfying way. All of a sudden balance is restored and we can keep on with what we love to do. I think it’s these contradictions that give the gift of what is ultimately grist for the mill, and real world experience to give our songs and stories credibility. Sue always says to me, “Give me an experience over a possession any day.”
After the show we unwound in the kitchen with some quiet conversation and a glass of wine with Nancy and Tim. But soon it was upstairs to retire for tomorrow we had to be up and out by eight in the morning and on our way for an afternoon concert in Iowa. Away like the snow geese in our white mini-van along our own migration path to the next destination.