||In March 2000, I was set to play this show with Shannon Wright in Baton Rouge. As was my fortune at the time, I was given free reign at the Baton Rouge Gambit to write whatever I felt like under the guise of promoting any show that I was going to be playing. Sure, I would've liked to have included more about Shannon's music, but I was in Austin at the time without a press kit or CDs to reference. Then I had too many drinks with my Austin friends. All of which I didn't feel particularly bad about... I mean, we're talking about a show where I only figured that my friends would come, regardless of what I wrote.
Then the night of the show was an awful thunderstorm. I almost got in a head-on collision with a hydroplaning car on my way to the show. Very few of my friends showed up at the show. I was disappointed and angry, but oh well. I gave all the money to Shannon, knowing that I'd get $50 in the mail for my rumination on an airplane in the Texas skies under which I was slightly intoxicated whilst cranking out the 800-odd words found below.
Wednesday, March 14th
The life of a traveling musician is just a series of fleeting images. Imbued with a dreamlike quality from lack of sleep coupled with the anxiety of feeling that one is always running late, meaningless moments are often become small epiphanies. Because, well, for the most part, touring is what many would call mundane, beyond the satisfaction of knowing that you are an artist surviving (barely, perhaps or only slowly losing) on your talents.
This was all in the last year...
Late February: Pennsylvania, Exit 42 on Interstate 80. At 6:30am I woke to a wash of white and wind. The windshield was frozen an inch thick with ice. Hours earlier, at 4am, I'd been climbing into the Poconos from the Delaware River valley when I reached that moment most terrifying to winter travelers - the change in the timbre of tires that indicates that what was once just a wet road was beginning to freeze. Freezing rain rattled the windows. Fifteen minutes later and the sleet was freezing so fast on the windshield that the wipers were merely scraping the top half of the ice, pushing it to the side, where it accumulated into a four inch wide mass along the perimeter of the wiper's reach. I had to stop... I had been stupid to leave New York at closing time in a 35 degree rainstorm, but I wanted to get back to my mother's house because it meant another day off in Clearfield before heading south. At the time, a day without driving seemed worth braving the elements. When I woke up on the backseat to the sound of the Arby's parking lot being plowed around me, I was beginning to have second thoughts.
Early May: North of Fort Worth, Texas, I parked the van by the side of the interstate and watched a 747 repeatedly land and take off on some sort of private runway that stretched for a mile or more alongside the road. The tarmac rippled in the heat, reminding me that, in Texas, soon it would be summer. It took nearly a full 10 minutes for the plane to take off, circle and land again. I'd heard of this... this was a pilot's training exercise called, I believe, a touch and go, but it was hard to imagine the people inside. All I saw was a silvery monstrosity that cut through this lonely sky -- glowing now... purplish, red and orange with the setting sun - and shared it with nothing. To me, this repetition just didn't look good. In fact, it looked terrible. "You are asking for it!" I cursed my thoughts over the straining jet engines. Did I mean disaster? I guess, but it didn't matter... because my exclamations meant nothing, the plane kept circling, and I saw it swinging around for yet another approach when it disappeared from the rearview mirror.
Another, more cutting realization I've come to about the consequences of frequent touring is that as you spend more time away from home, your hometown relationships fade. You savor the moments that aren't part of the constant blur of highways, gas stations, fast food restaurants and filthy, smoky bars smelling of rancid beer. I recently realized that, however strange the language seems, it is highly appropriate to use the term "colleagues" when describing many of the bands and artists I've met over the years. We may refer to ourselves as "friends," on most occasions but we really only share only a common occupation and at best a few mutual friends. Our brief moments together are punctuated with stories about the road... things we've seen, strange people we've met, horrible situations we've been in and funny stories we've heard from others.
In mid-November, I met Shannon Wright for the first time. We were playing together in Atlanta and were briefly introduced. I played early, but then had to pack my stuff up and immediately drive across town to another club to pick up an amp left behind by friends that had been in town a few nights before. By the time I got back, unfortunately I'd missed all but two songs of her set. I had already heard the raw beauty of "Flightsafety," and "Maps of Tacit" her two Quarterstick Records releases on which her voice at once betrayed both power and fragility over the top of her stark acoustic guitar.
In a live setting, rendered with the help of moonlighting Man Or Astroman? drummer, Brian Teasley, her songs were doubly intense and pretty. At the end of the evening, we exchanged nods and a few words. I got to talk to Brian more as I ran into him in three other cities (Baltimore, Baton Rouge and New Orleans) over the course of the next two months. After the show in New Orleans, he and Shannon were driving back to Atlanta through the night so that they would have one more day of recording time before she went to Europe for a tour with Calexico. He later told me that they had been squeezing in recording days by traveling home at various point. Things that would make no sense to logical minded people... like driving from Richmond to Atlanta for a day off spent recording and then back to Chapel Hill for a show the next day. And isn't that enough? To tell you that Shannon Wright writes songs unlike anyone else, with her own vision as to what a song should be. To tell you that she approaches her art with such fervor. Isn't that enough?