What Did We Learn from the Shows This Year, Ladies?

I customarily review Raison D'Etre's year in a countdown of experiences, always trying to sort the really golden moments from some of the challenges of the year. However, at this point in the journey, I see that the challenges somehow make us more determined to create something meaningful in this life. So, I will not leave them out.  Our countdown for 2014 includes our top ten teachers.


Maybe it's a variation on "What did we learn on the show tonight, Craig?" without that very witty robot skeleton. Since it contains a Top Ten, I guess it also borrows from Mr. Letterman as well.  I'm going to miss both of those class acts.


10.  History homework builds repertoire and chops. 


Learning music for historic programs taught us to play some interesting pioneer tunes and some pretty sweet ragtime chord progressions this year. We were happy to collaborate with Falcon Theatre on "Beyond the Blue Mountains," a play about the Oregon Trail based on a poetry collection by  Centre College professor, Jane Wilson Joyce. For that show, we used many of the early 1800s tunes that we already know and added two new ones, "Bound for the Promised Land," and "Long, Long Ago." The show was again part of Campbell County Public Library's "Signature Series," and was a sellout.


We also learned some great 1900s tunes for Ohio Chautauqua's Journey Stories presentation about a local Titanic survivor. The Chautauqua cast set up their 500 person tent for a week's stay in July during New Richmond, Ohio's Bicentennial.  "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" was such fun that we have added it to our regular sets and had a blast adding it to our Golden Girls of the West shows at The Old West Festival.  Kazoos are involved.


9. Some pretty classy venues book historical/period programs for their seasons.


We've learned over the past two years that honing these various "historic/period" programs can result in some very interesting bookings for informed audiences. For example, we played a sold-out show at Fairfield Community Center's theatre entitled "Swing Canaries and Harmony Siblings" in March and booked an upcoming "Voices from the Past" concert with the Wayne County Historical Society in Wooster, Ohio. In the same series are Harpeth Rising, Lone Raven, a Chautauqua-like first person interpreter doing Teddy Roosevelt, and us performing "Songs from the Old and New West."  Plus, our latest CD, "So Dear,"(with some Old West, swing, and Oregon Trail songs included) got us three nominations for the Western Music Category at Academy of Western Artists.


8. Sometimes you have to just "go with it."


We've concluded that the weather is going to do whatever the weather is going to do. Over our 25 years of performing, we have only been absolutely drenched twice. Once was at the Morehead Folk Fest. We just got to our tent on Cave Run Lake when a giant storm threatened to lift the whole tent off its moorings.  The second time was at Wine Over Water this August, when a wall of water marched down the Ohio River headed right for our little tented area of the Purple People Bridge.  In Morehead, they canceled the event. This time, Brighton Center volunteers soldiered on, and so did we. A brief downpour appeared every set, but we made it.


7. When you need some help, ask for it. 


While we usually perform between 50-80 shows per year, in 2014 we had to learn the hard lesson that sometimes less is more. When Violet Rae found out that she must have major surgery to repair an aneurysm on her aorta, we took most of July and August off to accommodate her complicated surgery at the Cleveland Clinic.  It was almost the same procedure that heart transplant patients receive, complete with a by-pass machine. Ma Crow and the Lady Slippers stood in for us at College Hill Coffee Company(God bless them,) Arlene de Silva traveled to Berea to present Roberta's Health Rhythms drum sessions at the Learnshops,  Bev Bowers postponed our summer concert for Womensway, and Vickie and I did a duo set at Art Song.  Everyone was very supportive. So, again, we thank you all for your cards and calls and e-mails and love. Violet Rae was back with us(on a chair) by Wine Over Water at the end of August.


6. Martin backpacker guitars are audience magnets.


Backpack guitars are a great dialogue starter.  Since Violet's surgery, she has been using her backpack Martin for all gigs, mainly because it is so light, but also because of what her doc found on her follow-up visit to Cleveland in late October.  She has a hernia near the site of her surgery incision which will need to be repaired in early 2015.  It will require much less recovery time, but VRae wants to be sure not to make it worse.  In the meantime, she's enjoying lots of time fielding questions about that "weird instrument."


5. When it rains, it pours.


I am not still talking about Wine Over Water here, Although one of their volunteers took to calling the event "Water Over Wine" before the evening was over. For some reason, because we had so many challenges this year, we were even more determined to finish our 9th recording project, "So Dear," before the Old West Festival. 


The trio decided at the beginning of 2014--before we knew anything about Violet's impending surgery--that we would record a few of the historic tunes we'd learned for Soldier, Come Home and Beyond the Blue Mountains, our two successful collaborations with Falcon Theatre and the Campbell County Public Library.  Since these tunes spanned the 1830-1865 time period, we realized we could add them to our Old West Shows with some interesting back stories. They would comprise the "westward ho" core of our new recording.  In addition, I was writing quite a few songs that sounded period about our own experiences performing together over the past 25 years, so two of those songs would make it to the mix along with my song "Sure Thing" that we had been performing for two years, but had never recorded together.  Add to that two songs from our other period sets that had never been recorded like "Cattle Call" and "Sincerely," and we had a decent vintage set. I began laying down the basic tracks in April. Violet and Vickie came in to Group Effort Studios whenever they had a spare minute between May and July. Then Vickie finished her banjo tracks in August.  By the opening of the Old West Festival in September, we were hauling our new release in the big wooden box Bruce Ellis made for us.


4. Folk Flash Mobs are Good for the Soul.


Do yourself a favor this year.  If someone invites you to grab your guitar and head down to "mid-town" Black Mountain to sing "This Land is Your Land" with a bunch of folkies from the South East Region Folk Alliance, do it. Do it in honor of sing along geniuses like Pete Seeger and songwriters like Woody and possum-wielding instigators like Todd Hoke. There will be laughter, there will be unity, there will be love between my brothers and my sisters all over this land. But most of all, there will be biscuits.


3. Hang with some artists and artisans.


There's always something to learn from woodcarvers. At our recent holiday stint in Berea at Kentucky Artisan Center, I got to play the demonstrator's first handmade guitar.  Great action, beautiful wood. He was so impressed with VRae's backpacker that he decided he would make one himself.  And did you know that hedge ball trees make excellent bowls?  Plus, I had never even heard of snake wood.


And at Summerfair we once again played a set on the Vocal Arts Gazebo.  The rest of the time, we wandered about one of the most beautiful arts and crafts fairs in our area. What did we learn? "From my hands, it is sacred." Make some meaning in your lives, folks. Whether it's a poem, a pot, or a painting.


2. "Always stand by someone who is singing. You will be safe."


This advice came to us while we were performing for a memory care unit late this fall.  The advisor was singing along with us to most of the songs(the point of our presentation, really.) And in between songs, she offered this advice to anyone who would listen.  She also offered up a voluntary translation of "Bie Mir Bist Du Schoen" following that song: "to me, you are beautiful," she said to all present. "Now, you know."


1. "I Will Always Love You."  


Dolly wrote it for her pal, Porter. Whitney had a smash hit that causes people to wave their arms in the air when they hear it. We have been performing it since 1990. The song teaches us to not be shy about expressing our feelings of love and gratitude to you, dear reader, and to those who won't read this. Be sure to let your loved ones know how you feel because life is "just too short for some folks," to quote another great songwriter, Jesse Winchester.


Have  a wonderful 2015 filled with teachers--those experiences that shape the meaning in your life.


Roberta of the Raison


Raison D'Etre

Three Women Who Know Their Reason for Being