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As I was walking up onto the stage at the South West Regional Folk Alliance ballroom, I had a small epiphany. The group that played before me was the incomparable Freddie and Francine. If you haven't heard them, take a moment to check them out. If you have heard them, you know what I mean by "incomparable". The sound of their two voices combined is massive and unbelievable.
I stood beside the stage as they played, getting ready to hop up right after their last song. As their harmonies would crescendo and fill the room, I noticed audience members glancing in my direction with a certain apologetic grimace in their eyes. As If to say,
"I'm sorry that you have to follow this."
I've seen that glance quite a bit in the past 15 years. I can't deny it. Jumping up on a big cold stage by yourself armed only with some songs you wrote about your feelings is intimidating. I could write a whole lot about how that specific experience has continuously shaped me both as a songwriter and as human being. But let's get back to the small epiphany:
Lee (Freddie) broke a string toward the end of a song. He's a professional, and I have no doubt that he would have handled
the whole thing effortlessly on his own, But I Instinctively tuned up my guitar beside the stage as they finished the song . As the crowd applauded, I handed it up to Lee and took his guitar off stage. The whole thing happened in a few seconds and the show went on like it hadn't happened at all.
Freddie and Francine played an incredible set. At the end of one particularly dynamic song, there there were two seconds of amazed silence after the final note. From the silence, one voice in the crowd rose up to say, "whoa." The place burst into laughter and applause.
And then it was my turn.
As I stepped up under the lights and adjusted the mic stand, (Lee is much taller and better looking than me.) I looked out at those faces, the ones with the apologies written on them. I laughed to myself. I felt myself well up with a feeling that I've had countless times but have never really examined. A sort of mantra that I've never said out loud.
This is about connection. This is how I tell people that I care about them. This is how I share what I have to share. Nobody wins or loses. Nobody is better or worse. The things by which we measure success are meaningless up here. And by the end of the show, the best that I can hope is that these people saw me clearly. And that somehow, that makes it easier for them to see other things clearly.
Humans are taught to view success as a zero sum game. That where there is a winner, there is a loser. That we are in competition with our peers. That the cream rises to the top. But it doesn't. It's everywhere. In fact, there is no top.
When Lee broke his string and I passed my guitar up to him, I didn't really think about it. But what I was saying was, "Don't let some bullshit stop you from doing what matters."