For the past 3 years I’ve had the pleasure of participating in American’s most important music festival, Farm Aid; the annual concert to benefit America’s struggling family farmers. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of buying local/organic food and supporting your local farmer’s market. Organic is the highest choice for your family’s health, the health of your environment, AND the health of your local economy as buying locally helps the farmer get the fairest and most accurate price for his labor. Believe it or not, our current food system, which is centrally managed by major factory farms, doesn’t act holistically. Meaning, human health, soil health, and economic health for the whole isn’t equally considered.
Farm Aid is an enriching and educational experience and I always return home with invaluable tips and resources to improve the quality of life in my own backyard.
This year I will not be attending Farm Aid unfortunately, but do plan to be there in spirit, keeping an ear on the progress, seeing that the 30 year old concert flourishes.
However, it gives me great pleasure to announce I WILL be playing a similar concert in Japan; the AP Bank Festival. AP Bank (which stands for Artist’s Power/Alternative Power) is not an actual Bank, but a fund created by Music Producer Takeshi Kobayashi and Sakurai Kazutoshi , a singer from the band “Mr Children”. For the past 8 years, AP Bank Fes has generated millions of dollars for farmers, food futures, and green technologies. This year, the festival is taking things a step further and creating 3 festival sites in effort to help the people in the disaster area by raising money and attention, with awards given especially to farmers, for the healthy food that will heal and sustain us.
I’ve been told I will be the first western artist to play this festival in its 8 years running, and what intrigues me almost as much as sharing music is what I’m sure to learn. At the AP Bank Fes, there is zero waste. ZERO waste! ZERO WASTE among 100,000 attendees!?
This is made possible by employing and empowering people to wash and reuse their plates and cups, to bring their own wares and act responsibly; conscious of the festival environment, which is everyone’s home for the long weekend. This I HAVE to see!
Additionally, All PET (plastic) bottles are compressed on site and prior to being recycled, are displayed as giant clear plastic cubes for all to see just how much is consumed in 3 short days. The efforts Takeshi Kobayashi and his team take are what is needed by ALL concert promoters and festival goers alike. They leave the festival sight without a trace and take accountability for everything that comes and goes from the festival grounds. Even trucks that carry-in deliveries are required to haul away recyclables so not even the petrol is misused. All merchandise is pre-organic, meaning the cotton comes from villages supported to keep pesticides out of their communities entirely. And within the festival are workshops on how to live sustainably, how to grow food, and make efficient products and crafts; ways to stay involved in the cultural revolution that I believe is now happening all over the planet.
Ironically, Japan has considered restoring their nuclear reactors soon to help combat the summer heat. The concert, powered by wind turbines, solar panels, and bio-fuel generators, hopes to raise awareness about – and stress the importance of – clean green renewable energy which is now available to all if we want it.
Could you imagine? ENERGY INDEPENDENCE! No nukes. No mountaintop removal nor burning of coal. No more oil spills. NO MORE UTILITY BILLS!
Sadly one of the driving forces opposing green tech are oil, gas, and electric utilities, which is a huge source of income for a nation. As long as people are tied into a grid, money is sure to be circulated, therefore Energy Independence looks scary to some. But imagine paying zero for electricity as myself and many people who own solar systems do. It allows me save and put my money elsewhere.
*This is something to think about for upcoming the US election. Keep in mind President OBAMA has applied more money to green technology than any other president in history. And for this he gets my vote for a second term! (See that your local Congressman and Senator are supporters of green initiatives as well, for if the majority of the Senate were eco-minded, we’d be halfway to utopia already.) With Energy Independence, we could spend less money on oil, gas and electric (fighting less wars and building less nuclear products) and put more money into healthy food futures or the ARTS!
Japanese audiences have been supportive of my music for 10 years strong and I am especially honored to be considered a friend in this revolutionary time of need.
I’ve done some pretty stupid things in my life. Such as slicing my finger on a tube of toothpaste. I tore my leg open on a mattress once, requiring 7 nasty staples to seal me up. And I even broke my leg on an exercise bike, putting me in a thigh high cast for an entire summer. Perhaps these minor/major incidents lend themselves to my being vulnerable in song; having experienced just how fragile our little lives are.
The first night I arrived in Korea I plugged my beard trimmer into the wrong wall socket and blew the thing up in my hands near missing an electric shock. It’s a good thing I wasn’t shaving my area. I took surviving the incident as a sign I’m supposed to have a thick beard this month. In all areas.
On the outdoor stage at Nami Island, just outside of Seoul, Korea, we headlined the Rainbow Festival and were the delight of 10,000 harmonizing fans. All was merry on the island established about 50 years ago with great intent, i.e. enormous trees lining the paths and roads with shade and beauty which in turn attracts abundant wildlife. All of the buildings and structures on the island were made of reclaimed and recycled material, which is also a nice earthy touch. Plus, you don’t see very many cars on the island due to the only way onto the island being boat or zip-line, which is rad in and of itself. Being in this eco-minded and altogether new world, I saw birds I’d only previously seen in cartoons and about a thousand different species of insect. However, the trouble with being in a spotlight on a tiny island is you become the brightest in the bunch, therefore the delight of 10,000 winged or multi-legged creepy-crawlies. Never mind being vegan when you’re the flame to every moth. You’re eating insect whether you like it or not.
Maybe bug guts between the gums is to blame for my language mix up. In each country I do my best to say a few simple phrases in the native language and in Korea instead of saying “You’re Great!” to an audience with beautiful voices, I kept saying “Good Bye.” They must’ve been super confused by my saying this again and again though never actually leaving the stage. “Good Bye!”
And lastly, Sungha Jung is Korean! He’s the kid I’ve mentioned in a few interviews to be my zen master of guitar. I thought he was Japanese by mistake. I would’ve seen this if I’d visited his official website and seen how it’s entirely in Korean and English. Instead I’d been focused on his YouTube arrangements and misplaced his heritage altogether. If you haven’t yet checked him out, visit SunghaJung.com to hear the gorgeous guitar arrangements of some of your favorite songs.
And a special thanks to all our Korean fans for helping us kick off the tour. Thanks for the lights, love and paper airplanes. “Good Bye!”
A tough and rugged, well-worn hard-shell Samsonite is my primary suitcase. It isn’t very big. In fact, the pride I have about its size wouldn’t fit inside it if it was tangible. I love that its compact and can support me for months on the road, keeping shoes, books, and all around general tour stuff that one acquires, separate from my dirty laundry while at the same time keeping my hats protected. Mary Poppin’s purse ain’t got nothing on my bruised and battered overnight bag. But the case itself, with the stories it could tell, doesn’t deserve all the credit. It’s a thing of beauty yes, but like a guitar, the art lie in how you use it.
Traveling through Japan years ago I learned to use a luggage strap to ensure my bag remained closed en route. In the old days it was not uncommon to find one’s bag on the carousel spewing laundry or missing a few items. One time my case didn’t EVER arrive on the carousel and it was 14 months before we found it. 14 months!! Fortunately I’d just done laundry before it went missing. AND my roommate had gifted me a satchel of lavender to keep things fresh inside. When I opened the lost arc-ish time capsule of a case, all my items were there, pressed, clean and folded, and smelling oh so flowery.
This is tour in a nutshell. Or hardshell rather. Playing music often gets the glory, but tour is really about moving people and all of their stuff. Lots of stuff.
The word TOUR is best defined as a voyage. And when I hear the word voyage I can’t help but associate it with magic, or some kind of heroic or brave adventure; navigating high seas, dodging monsters, castle anthrax, etc. But for us the musicians, we have it easy. We have our suitcases and our backpacks, our books and our breakfast buffets. We’re on deck smiling, waving and playing shuffleboard while THE CREW is below deck keeping the engine running. People stop me daily and say, you must be tired, or they ask me, how do you do it? The real question is How do THEY do it?
When our crew arrived in Korea a few days ago, they hit the ground running. First they connect with the shipping container that brought our gear over from the US. Then they get it unloaded into the venues, assembling everything; stage, lights, PA, instruments, all of it – by mid day, just in time for some well oiled musicians to leisurely stroll in and tinker with it. Then they work the show, making sure all the lights, sound and equipment operates properly, in alignment with the musicians desires and the crowd reactions. THEN, they tear it all down, pack it all up and drive it to the next gig, with a SMILE.
How do they do it? How do they work 10 times as many hours as the band and get such little credit? It must be the coffee. Last night I bashed my guitar tech in the face during a blackout between songs. I didn’t see he was standing as close to me as he was and when I took my guitar off, the headstock went right into his headstock. If it were me, I would’ve needed a time out after that. But to him it’s just another battle scar; just another badge of honor.
So how do they do it? The smile might be the giveaway. After all the sleep deprivation, the packing – unpacking – and repacking of trucks, the wiring and rewiring of electricity and sound, and not to mention the musician requests to change the whole set up – how do they keep smiling though it all, day in and day out? Easy. They’re bat shit crazy.
The answer is in their love of putting on a show. The way a director sits behind the camera, so too do the crew hang tight in the wings bringing the shows to the masses. You don’t see Steven Spielberg acting in his own films, but for those two and half hours, he’s been right behind you.
I am grateful for my hardworking crew and all the blood, sweat and beers they sacrifice for us.
See them in action, the real men in black, this summer in a city near you.
On June 3rd my grandmother turned 83. I went home to VA to see her. I brought her a plant, some berries, and introduced her to my girlfriend. She was reclined in an easy chair the whole time we were there, drifting in and out of what looked like pleasant little midday naps. Being an expert of the snooze alarm myself, I imagine she feels wonderful allowing her body to expand into dream upon layered dream. As she continuously awoke, she’d add something to the conversation that not everyone in the room could understand, but to no dismay. She’s 83 and long retired, living peacefully between ours and her own dream-world. “That’s cute the way she’s dancing in that fire,” She’d say. And we’d agree, somewhat jealous that we couldn’t see the majesty that she’d come to view.
I go home twice a year; for the holidays and for my grandmother’s birthday. Those are the occasions when most of the immediate family comes together in one place. (Her birthday also boarders my Mom’s and my brother’s which adds even more celebration to the end of spring.)
This year, in addition to singing Happy Birthday, I got to sing in ways I never imagined I would thanks to the 30 year old School of Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC), one of the beneficiaries of my foundation. This year, SPARC created LIVE ART, an all-inclusive education and performance program that welcomed children of all talents and abilities to the stage.
“Every human being has needs that are unique and very, very special,” says Erin Thomas-Foley, LIVE ART creator and director. SPARC saw those needs were met, spending 20 weeks developing a full-on theatrical stage show integrating seasoned performers with children of all ages who are deaf, autistic, and differently-abled. It wasn’t a matter of finding talent as most kids with disabilities have talents that surpass those of an able-bodied person. The 5 month preparation was mostly about introducing these kids to a new way of expressing themselves; add a large audience, amplified music, and stage lighting. It was also about teaching many others sign language, as well as tolerance, and compassion.
Being the first of it’s kind that I know of, the show’s theme focused on music and arts from Virginia, therefore all the music was written and performed by VA songwriters, musicians and choreographers, etc. I was honored to play Live High with a big band and a choir; The Sunshine Song with a new piano arrangement by a new friend and colleague JC Wright, and Details In The Fabric while standing on a large clean canvas as actors threw paint around my feet before dancing all around on it, creating a beautiful image with our movements and emotions.
Photos by Martin Montgomery courtesy of SPARC.
I’d known for weeks what I’d get to do in the show, but it wasn’t until I attended rehearsal that morning that I realized how special my participation was. And I say that not in the way that suggests my being there must’ve been special for the kids. I’m saying my being there was special for me.
I’ve performed on a thousand stages and shared dressing rooms and curtain calls with legendary ensembles and superstars alike. But nowhere have I received the kind of grace and elation I did onstage with the actors, dancers, and musicians of LIVE ART.
During two of the numbers I thought to myself, honored, “This is exactly why I wrote these songs.”
The homecoming also gave me the opportunity to reconnect with those who’d inspired me along the way, particularly when I still lived in VA; acts like Jesse Harper and Daniel Clarke, two great musicians with whom I attended middle school who’ve gone on to become incredible songwriters and performers; legendary Hammond B3 player and songwriter Steve Bassett, a man I once attended a songwriting workshop when I was in my teens; NY Lighting Designer Joe Doran, whose smile I hadn’t seen since we were in a play together almost 20 years ago; Martin Montgomery, a filmmaker I’d shared stages with in college was documenting the experience and took all the attached photographs; and Susan Greenbaum, a Kansas City transplant to Richmond, VA the way I am to San Diego, has essentially become the voice of Richmond. And of course there were many others, friends, teachers, parents, you name it. It’s my home town after all.
There was also a moment backstage when myself and about 30 kids were waiting for our cues that I realized how little has changed in my life. Here I am almost 35 years old and I am doing exactly what I was doing when I was 15. I get to play music full time; emphasis on play. And that’s pretty cool.
Photo by Martin Montgomery, courtesy of SPARC.
Cleverly executed and well done, LIVE ART, a little bit theatre, a little bit rock concert, and a little bit cirque de soleil, was a show I won’t soon forget. It reawakened me to why I write songs and why it’s important to share and perform them. Myself and the entire company of more than 100 people circled up before the show, holding hands and setting an intention for greatness, casting out fear and allowing our nerves to just be. That special moment backstage didn’t have anything to do with ticket sales, fundraising, branding, or celebrity, factors that occasionally sneak into my adult life. The moment was pure heart, and for some, including myself, it was the moment acknowledging the biggest and most important show we may ever play in our lives.
My grandmother couldn’t attend the show, but I told her I take her onstage with me everywhere I go, which I do.
Learn more about SPARC and LIVE ART by visiting SparcOnline.Org and go hug your grandma if you can.
Happy Mom’s Weekend to All the Mom’s and Mom’s to Be. Here’s one of my favorite songs about Mom’s written by Jude. I took some liberties on the lyrics and left out a few verses. I highly recommend hearing the original off of his album “No One Is Really Beautiful.” It’s stunning. Mona and I wanted to perform this song in front of the Eiffel Tower and/or by the Seine, but those places were too noisy and all we had to record with was our iPhone. Still, it’s the thought that counts. Just like when you made your mom a personalized card, damp and heavy with paste and popsicle sticks.