We left Portland after more than thirty years to lend support to family in Olympia. Six months later we find some of our friends and fans distressed to find us gone from our Portland perch. Over the course of the last few quick years, we sold the shop, hit the road, sold our house and moved north.
After playing the River City Bluegrass Festival in Jantzen Beach, where we encountered many wonderful and familiar faces, we discovered that a lot of people who love us, our music and our journey are wondering where we went. Don’t worry, we’re still around and the story is growing legs of its own. We’re on a quest that has taken us over 30,000 miles in fifteen months and welcomed us into communities to sing all over the USA.
Joni sings “You don’t always know what you’ve got till it’s gone” in the background as I consider these last few months and how to describe life as we know it. We get homesick for Portland and return often to play, teach and visit. With the help of our website and enews, we hope to keep up with our Portland base and to let you know that we’re back in town.
We had wanted to have a big party before we relocated. Suddenly aging family needed tending between gigs and we were tossed in a whirlwind that blew one day into another with no door to stop time, look back and reflect.
I have an old wish to have journaled every single day since coming into the heart of the music community in Portland, Oregon at Artichoke Music. That midsummer day in 1977, I ventured into a tiny little instrument shop on NW 21st named after tough little vegetable I hadn’t even tasted yet. That became a landmark day and a turning point in the map that brought me here.
Artichoke Music was just one road to the middle of my life and most heavily traveled. We intersected with so many people in that place of music. By 1994 I was behind the counter and in cahoots with the owner on strings and otherwise. Regardless of caste, class or creed, music was the common language that parlayed customers into friends, not just with mutual love for instruments but with one another and the journeys we were on. We came together in community, in marriage, in solidarity and peace marches, raffling guitars for food for the hungry and manifesting dreams we chose to try on just to see what was possible – and it worked every time.
We set a Guinness World Record singing “This Land is Your Land” with 502 official members of the “World’s Largest Guitar Band” and raised 10k to feed hungry folks at the Sisters of the Road Cafe. Every kind of human being came to Pioneer Courthouse Square that Sunday in the middle of Portland 90 degree heat – from big wild mohawks and tatoos to straight Armani suits and ties. We all sang together for a better world in that moment. Our lives had seasoned into a unique role as community harmonizers and this day was proof of the pudding. “Guitarzilla” in the square happened three days before Portland would lose one of its first favorite sons in the war in Iraq, Travis John. People came to the square in the middle of town by bus, train, foot, car and bicycle. The police were onboard and the blocks around the square were monitored without one problem erupting. The mood in the country at the time was grim and depressed; this event was something positive that we could all agree on. Sixty-five minutes later, the record was set and the Associated Press was passing the story around the globe.
Sometimes doing something that hasn’t been done before really works. Everybody wants to have fun. Everyone wants to eat. Everyone wants to do something they can feel great about. All we wanted was a good story for our as-yet-unborn grandchildren and to raise some money for the good work at Sisters of the Road to help the hungry in our town. The fine line between “the haves and the have-nots” lingers heavily in the economic climate. In Oregon, it’s the children who are affected most and on that day, a lot of meals were guaranteed to feed them.
The iconic “1st Friday Variety Revue” ran in the Backgate for years to a full house and audiences came fully prepared to be blown away. The lineup always included at least one special mystery guest who was “either the prodigious undiscovered or someone TOO FAMOUS to pre-announce for the room” was a formula that became a new standard in entertainment in town. The list of entertainers is fun to look at all by itself. It was just as fun to present an unknown centenarian on the zither followed by a seven-year old banjo player as it was to follow that with a set by Tony Trishka or Artie Traum or John Herald. Some of the most incredible music-moments-of-a-lifetime were shared among us all in that place together, awed by the beauty and kinship we discovered in the music that rang in the middle of our differences. We learned new things every day. It wasn’t about the money. It was about the heart of the people.
That was some deep bonding over all the Portland years; a bond that deepens and grows as we find our way around the world with what we learned together. Its most powerful lesson boiled down to taking what we learned and deliver it into the bigger neighborhood of the world-at-large.
Portland has watched us grow and go through a lot of intersections over the years: a marriage between two folksingers from two corners of the folk music world, unexpected brain surgery, Odetta, Guitarzilla, playing the stage on A Prairie Home Companion, the delivery of a song on a banjo in the middle of the woods from the ghost of Travis John, Pete Seeger’s love for that song and sending it to Springsteen, singing two thousand miles away in Kerrville to receive an award for a song judged to make a difference while our youngest son graduated from high school back home, Saturday song circles in back with Kate as Steve took care of folks coming through the front door from who knows where to explore instruments, a roster of music greats who came to play our stage that could fill a book all its own, and the human connection always in place, its significance burning on days like 9/11 when people flocked to the store not knowing if we were all going to survive what was coming next. We learned about harmonizing community in good company.
Now we’re traveling from home on Puget Sound. Our beloved community of Portland is still right there in first place, smack dab in the middle of our hearts. Where we land on any given night depends on where we’re working but when people ask about home, we’re from Portland and most recently, Olympia. Our sea legs have adjusted to Olympia and life on the road pretty well for now. The only way to do what we do is to go out and do it, outside of the familiar nest of home. “Home” by definition is where the heart is and for us that includes the place we came together in. The Ukalaliens movement keeps us in motion much of the time. Concerts, workshops, Steve’s art, Kate’s writing, birthing new songs and remembering old ones and the tales and times between goodbye and hello. It leaves a lot of creative juice waiting on the plate to sop up like gravy, cooking up this stew together.
It would be a lonely adventure without the warm words of encouragement and the loving support that continue to pour from our Portland community and friends. “If I could be anything, I want to be with you. I wouldn’t be anything, without you.” We’re giving what we’ve got while we’ve got it to give and couldn’t have grown such a beautiful garden of songs to pass on without the sweet side of life in the bosom of Portland.
We’re a couple of folksingers who happened to find harmony. In exchange for the gift, we make music like food and pass it on. The charm casts a spell that breaks into a natural chain reaction. Strains of “You Are My Sunshine” begins and a trembling hand begins to strum in time, remembering. Can harmony be far behind? The story between the lines comes through in the voices of the people behind the songs and light shines in their singing eyes reflecting joy and sorrow. The sonic tapestry is as different every time as it is familiar, its weft in the weave, an old song that takes us back.
So, if you find yourself missing us, please know that we miss you too. It’s a real thrill for us to see your faces at our gigs and we come to Portland so we can. Thank you. It means the world to us.
We love to hear from you and get news from your neck of the woods. Your friendship gives us courage to keep going – despite the economy, or needing wheels or hearing ominous news on the radio. We are on a track that started at home years ago in Portland. That track would quickly turn into a cold, hard trail without your genuine support and good wishes for what we do. That same track beckons us to continue what we started and to trust that as long as what we bring to the table flourishes in the hearts of the people we meet, it’s worth sharing – just to see what’s possible.