The search for an icon…

The Blue Rock Before

I went on an adventure this past Sunday; a search expedition of sorts.  My friends Billy and Dodee Crockett own a gorgeous place in the Texas Hill Country, Wimberley to be exact, called Blue Rock Artist Ranch and Studio.  It is their home, a state of the art commercial recording studio and the scene of arguably the best House Concert series in the country.  It is a place created to nurture the artist’s soul; a place of grace and a place that I feel blessed to be whenever I am there.

The icon of Blue Rock Studio is literally the Blue Rock; a huge piece of limestone standing ten feet tall and fourteen feet across in the middle of Lone Man Creek.  The house and studio look down on “the rock” from high above — at least they did.  Last Wednesday night fifteen inches of rain swept through Wimberley and swept the Blue Rock downstream and out of sight.  What do you do when your icon vanishes overnight?  When that thing that represents your hopes and dreams just disappears?  Surely something that big can’t just evaporate into thin air?

So Sunday afternoon a small group of us gathered to hike down to the creek and see if we could solve the mystery of where the Blue Rock had gone.  It was a gorgeous day with bright blue skies and just a hint of fall in the air as we began the descent, armed with cameras and our curiosity. 

The hike down is really more of a scramble.  There is no trail; the hill is steep and the footing iffy in places, especially after the storm, but we all managed to clamber down without incident.  Evidence of the storm was everywhere; trees uprooted and heaped up where the rising creek had left them; piles of rocks that had been sent rushing down stream with the flood waters; places where the steep banks had given way to come sliding down, leaving mounds of debris.

An hour or two of exploring up and down the creek brought us no clear answer.  There were a handful of large boulders, some looking like they could possibly be a piece of the beloved Blue Rock.  Lots of photos were taken to try to match to older photos of the rock.  Still, as we headed back up the hill the whereabouts of the Blue Rock still remained a mystery.  It didn’t seem likely that it could have been taken beyond the bend in the creek.  It’s possible that it could have been broken into several pieces or perhaps one of the large rocks we spent time climbing around on was indeed part of the original.

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At the end of our demanding climb up from the creek we sat down to share a meal and reminisce.  With two esteemed singer/songwriters among us in Billy Crockett and David Wilcox there had been talk of this adventure needing a song.  Sure enough as we ate David would occasionally scribble something down on a scrap of paper he had brought to the table.  Eventually he got up and went into the other room where his guitar was.  A short while later he came back and proceeded to play us a brilliant song to commemorate the significance of the Blue Rock.  It was a very special moment. 

I drove home that evening feeling a tremendous sense of gratitude for having been a part of that experience.  The storms of life can wreak havoc sometimes.  They can also bring beauty and a chance for new beginnings if we’re able to open our eyes to it.  As David Wilcox so eloquently put it “the rock” is not gone.  It may be further down the river but “it’s in the walls and in the spirit, in the soul and in the sound.”

Amen to that…

The Big Blue Rock” by David Wilcox

Fear and the art of playing the guitar…

Kerrville

I have a love-hate relationship with my guitar.  It’s been going on as long as I can remember.  I love the actual guitar itself–a beautiful, Rainsong Acoustic/Electric which I won in a contest that singer/songwriter, David Wilcox had when he released his CD “Vista” some years back.  It’s a nicer guitar than I ever could have afforded myself and since it is graphite, it is the perfect guitar to take to festivals and camping.

I enjoy playing the guitar because it allows me to accompany myself when I sing, which I love to do more than just about anything.  It is when it comes to performing that I begin to feel completely inept.  If I’m being perfectly honest, having to sit in front of an audience and accompany myself on guitar simply scares the crap out of me.  You might as well strip me naked and put me out there for all the world to see.  And it’s not the performing itself; getting up and singing in front of a room full of people might elicit a few minor nerves but put a guitar in my hand and serious anxiety kicks into overdrive.

It’s garbage thinking really.  No, I’m not the best guitar player in the world but I can get by well enough to sing my songs.  At least in my living room in front of the dog I can.  It’s when I’m up on a stage with all eyes on me that it tends to fall apart.  I don’t know if you’ve ever played guitar before but it is problematic at best to play when your hands are shaking.    I keep telling myself that I just need to keep plugging away at it; that if I just keep getting up there I’ll eventually get to the point that it will be more comfortable.  So far that theory hasn’t exactly worked but who knows, maybe someday.

I have been fortunate to have some really excellent guitar players as friends who have been gracious enough to try to bestow some of their expertise on me.  My friend Randall Williams must have given me 10 or 12 hours of lessons in a 4 day period when he was in town for a gig once.  My friend Bill Nash, who is the High King of our camp (Camp Nashbill) at the Kerrville Folk Festival, has taught me to Travis pick and offered an incredible amount of encouragement.   Then there’s my friend David Llewellyn who has spent hours going over and over techniques and showing me little tricks of the trade to help me add a little extra sparkle to my songs.  I’m incredibly grateful to them all and there is a big part of me that feels like I’m letting them down every time I get up in front of people and flub things up.  They seem to believe in me–why can’t I believe in myself?

I don’t know the answer to that.  I just know that I need to keep trying.  Maybe someday I’ll get out of my head enough,  let go of my perfectionist BS and just learned to have fun doing it.  Until then, I’m grateful to those who have offered encouragement, expertise and inspiration.  Namaste…

Coming Home…

Sun sets on the final night of the festival

Sun sets on the final night of the festival

Come home, to a fire that’s always warm
Come home, to shelter from the storm
Come home, to hugs and kisses sweet
Come home, to this place of love we meet

Bill Nash, Come Home

I wrote a blog a couple of months ago about the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, TX, my home base at Camp Nashbill and our leige lord, King Bill (Nash).  This past weekend I had a chance to go home to Camp Nashbill and the mini-version of the festival fondly known as “Little Folk” that has been held every Labor Day weekend since 1972.  I missed the big (18 day) festival in the spring so it was especially sweet to head the 106 miles west knowing there would be hugs, laughter and lots of music waiting when I got there.

My good friend and fabulous singer/songwriter, David Llewellyn flew down from Nashville and drove out with me to Quiet Valley Ranch, the home of the festival.  I hadn’t seen David in much too long so it was great to have the company for the trip and the chance to really catch up.  There was plenty of laughter and good conversation to occupy us on the two-hour drive.  We arrived at the ranch in the late afternoon and were greeted by a wonderful hug from Bill and from dear friends Charlie and Ruby. 

No sooner had we set up our tents and unloaded the truck than the guitars came out.  There were no main stage performances Thursday night…the music was all going on in the campground.  I was shaking off the cobwebs after nearly eight months of not playing (shoulder surgery) and my fellow campmates were very patient with my attempts to remember what the heck I was doing.  We had wonderful music from Bill, David, Todd and others.  Soon, our friends Paul, Teresa, Dee and more began to arrive with others expected the following day.  This is the heart of the festival for me–the community, the friendships–I love these people dearly. 

Friday morning began where Thursday night left off; with us sitting around, guitars in hand, swapping songs and stories.  I’m grateful to David for all of the much needed help on the guitar…things were starting to come back to me by the time the weekend was done.  As always there was music pretty much day and night around the campgrounds, afternoon concerts at Threadgill Theater and evenings up at the Kerrville Main Stage with fabulous performances by the likes of Ellis Paul, Ruthie Foster, Terri Hendrix, Hal Ketchum, George Ensle, Betty Soo and more.  There was an unsuccessful attempt to escape the heat at the river that ended up with Mexican food (could have been much worse); at night there were stars so big and bright it was breathtaking, and of course, a total lack of sleep.  And so the weekend came and went much too soon.

I’m so grateful for all of the friendships, old and new; for the hugs, the laughter, the songs and for all of the love that is found every time I go.  There were a few that were not in attendance but they were never far from our minds.  Monday morning we all packed up, said our farewells and hugged until next spring when we’ll gather again in the spot in the meadow that we all call home.  See y’all in 264 days!!

Finding my voice and a song…

new choir re-size logo

It took me 4 years and a 12-step group to work up the nerve to join the choir at my church.  No, seriously.  It’s isn’t crazy the lengths to which we’ll allow fear to keep us from joy?  I have loved music for as long as I can remember.  I love to sing and I’m pretty good at it.  And I certainly wouldn’t have admitted to myself or to anyone else that it was fear keeping me from it.  No, I was too busy.  I was already working two jobs…where would I find the time to go to rehearsals?  I certainly didn’t want to make a commitment and then not follow through with it.  Maybe someday…

About that time I joined a group at my church started by my friend Bob.  The program was called the Journey Towards Wholeness and was based on the same 12 Steps used in Alcoholics Anonymous and other programs dealing with addiction.  Bob believed that you didn’t have to have use alcohol or drugs or overeat to benefit from working the steps.  He talked a lot about what he called his “addiction to fear” and for some reason that resonated with me.  Not that I’d ever admit that I was afraid of anything but Bob is one of the wisest men I know so when he asked if I’d like to join the group I said I’d give it a try.

It was when we got to Step Four that things started to get real.  “I make a fearless and searching moral inventory of myself”.  Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?  Now I don’t think it was any accident that Wes, the leader of our group was heavily involved in the choir.  God has a sense of humor that way.  In the process of doing my inventory I admitted to the group one evening that I’d always wanted to join the choir.  By that time we all knew each other well enough that they weren’t going to buy my “I’m too busy” excuse.  I finally just came out with it one evening and said, “You know what.  I think I’m just afraid.  I can sing but I’ve never done harmonies and I don’t read music.  What if I’m not good enough?  What if I can’t do it?”

Long story short I finally accepted Wes’s invitation to come to choir practice.  Now mind you, this was a fabulous 200 voice choir with some incredibly talented soloists and some of the best musicians in Austin providing accompaniment.  I was wading in to deep water.  I’d like to say that it was all sunshine and roses but, truth be told my first rehearsal was horrible.  It turned out that Wes had another commitment that night but he introduced me to a friend of his who would show me the ropes.  When he asked me what part I sang I was mortified to have to admit that I had no idea.  “Well, your speaking voice sounds like an alto…why don’t you go sit with them.”

He introduced me to a couple of the altos and rehearsal started.  Honestly, I wanted to crawl in a hole.  I couldn’t follow the music, I tried to sing along with the people around me but many of the notes they were singing were too high for me.  The more I tried the more anxious I got and the harder it became.  When the rehearsal was over I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

It would have been like me to find an excuse to not be able to go the following week.  It would have been easy to find a reason to work late.  And the next week there would have been something else.  And then I would be right…I just wasn’t in a place to be able to make that kind of commitment.  But something had changed in me.  The fear that had kept me from following my heart’s desire most of my life wasn’t gone, but I knew that I had to admit that it was fear that was stopping me and not some important task that needed me elsewhere.

So, I talked about this with my group that week and I went back.  The choir became a huge part of my life.  I found a home in the tenor section which fit my vocal range much better.  I learned to sing harmonies.  I later went on to have opportunities to sing solos and I sang with some wonderful ensembles.  I’ve since moved on to another church but the music is still with me and I will always be thankful for the friendships I made and the incredible experiences I had through those years in the choir.

Since then I’ve started playing the guitar again, I  got involved in the folk music scene and have met so many wonderful musicians and friends through all of that.   With the help of many of those people I even recorded a CD that released last year as a benefit in memory of a dear friend who passed away in 2009.  To date we’ve raised over $5,300 for Living Hope Mission in Haiti in memory of my friend David Gentiles.

Music has been and will always remain my joy and a tremendous gift to me.  I’d like to say that fear is not a part of my life anymore but that would not be true.  I can say that I am able to see it for what it is when it comes around and I can deal with it one step at a time.  I am grateful…

Welcome home…

Welcome homeIt would be difficult for me to describe the Kerrville Folk Festival to the uninitiated.  For those of us who make the annual pilgrimage to Quiet Valley Ranch outside of Kerrville, TX the “Welcome Home” sign pretty much says it all.   For 18 days beginning the Thursday before Memorial Day each year the ranch is home to thousands of music lovers from all walks of life coming together for the sake of the song.  By the time it’s all said and done the ranch is pretty much wall to wall tents and music.  There are fabulous stage performances every night with added performances on weekend afternoons as well as the almost daily Ballad Tree where anyone who cares to share a song can get up and perform.  The music that goes on nearly 24 hours a day at the various campsites is part of the heart of the festival and you’ll hear everyone from the casual music lover to mainstage performers at all hours of the day and night swapping songs in a circle of friends.

Groups of people gather the weekend before  for Landrush to set up camps with names like Camp Coho, Kantigree, Sweetness and Light, and Duct Tape, just to name a few.  My home base at the festival is a little slice of heaven known as Camp Nashbill where our fearless leader, liege lord and High King, Bill Nash welcomes us with open arms.

In her book, The Dance, author Oriah Mountain Dreamer has this to say about home:

“This is what home is: not only the place you remember, but the place that remembers you, even if you have never been there before, the place that holds some essential piece of you in trust, waiting for you to return when you go out into other places in the world, as you must.”

That pretty much sums up the festival and especially Camp Nashbill to me.  I was made to feel at home from the moment I stepped foot under the canopy in 2002 and to this day it remains home and my campmates are family.  Each year we’ll welcome another member or two into the fold and they are greeted as though they’d been coming there for years.

Camp Nashbill - photo by Neale Eckstein

Camp Nashbill – photo by Neale Eckstein

Bill is an inspiration to many, including myself.  Diagnosed many years ago with Multiple Sclerosis, Bill has had to develop ways to play the guitar that don’t require as much strength in his left hand.  He has developed a method using alternate tunings and multiple capos of varying sizes to enable him to play chords with one or two fingers and is always ready to teach anyone with a desire to learn.  His after mainstage song circle is a popular place for performers to stop by and share a song or two.  Bill welcomes anyone and everyone who would like to sing and play and the circle often goes on until 3:00 or 4:00 a.m.  I’m way too much of an early riser to stay up with them that late but I have a tradition of setting my tent up just outside of the song circle.  I’ve heard some amazing music while half asleep in my tent.   It’s a magical place.

To say that I am grateful for the friendships, the songs, the laughs and the hugs that I have received from my fellow “Nashbillians” doesn’t begin to scratch the surface.  In my campmates and fellow festival goers I have found acceptance and kindred spirit. If you ever find yourself near Kerrville, TX at the end of May or first part of June stop on by.  We’ll all say “Welcome Home!”