The Theme of this Blog :Â Community Organizing to Stop Gas Pipeline, Visiting Old Friends, and meeting new Songwriters.
This weekend I took a long anticipated trip back to my home town, Blacksburg, Virginia. Here I linked up with my long time friend and internationally renowned Bass Player, F.M Turner. F.M is also the co-producer our my two albums, Bird Must Fly(2010) and Blessings on Your Journey (2014). We played two gigs this weekend, one at the Cellar Restaurant and Bar and one at the Anahata Educational Center in Floyd.
During my visit in VA, IÂ investigated the current local issue of fighting the construction of a Gas Pipeline that is slated to be built in the backyard of many of my friends. The pipeline is slated to involved significant tracking and environmental destruction in order to mine and distribute natural gas to China and other international exports. It is clear that people are ready for alternative energy, and people are dedicated to protecting their land and their children’s future. The concern that Fracking and Pipeline construction poses a major environmental risk not only to the VA community, but to the entire country. Please visit the following website to learn more about how this issue will affect your community, your water quality and your children. I wrote an honorary new version of “Which Side Are You On”, in solidarity with the NRV Pipeline fight.Â
We had the pleasure of our friend and singer songwriter Kevin Knight join us for opening sets in both concerts. Kevin has an incredibly wide vocal range with a dreamy and rich voice, his songs produce a classic sound, similar Neil Young and Townes Van Zandt .
The visit ends with a Pie Auction at tuesday night Gillies Restaurant in Blacksburg, where we will celebrate our community andraise money for efforts to endÂ Mountain Top Removal.Â I am continuously impressed with this community, and their dedication to preserving the land and Appalachian heritage. Â Thank you South West Virginia. You are clearly my home.
Dear Friends and Supporters. I have a beautiful success story to share with you.
Something really important happened this weekend. I was invited to perform at a benefit concert on saturday afternoon for a 3 year old girl who is suffering from cancer. The night before I thought deeply about what I could bring to the situation as a clown, a musician, a beacon of joy perhaps. I wanted to engage Chiara and her family in a light and playful way, to lift their spirits and invite them into joy.
I prepared the song and an activity. “Magic Penny” (by Melvina Reynolds), brought a bag of pennies and instructed kids to hand out the pennies to the audience as I played the song. The rules of the game were , every time someone hands you a magic penny, find someone else to give it away to. The song says “Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more, its just like a magic penny, keep it for yourself and you don’t have any”.
As I sang, the audience giggled and passed the pennies around the room as I watched and sang with joy and excitement. It was amazing to see the energy in the room move in such away that facilitated exchange, movement, laughter and silliness.
Three weeks ago, someone gave me a Ukulele. I said to them “I don’t need this Ukulele, some little kid does.” Sternly, my friend responded ” you are the musician, YOU find a kid to give the Ukulele to! It means more that way!”
Dean was exactly right. That moment, the Ukulele was a “Magic Penny”. An act of love, made to be given away and shared. I kept the Ukulele for several weeks, waiting for the right person to give it to. When I was invited to play for Chiara, I knew the UKE was meant for her.
At the end of the Magic Penny game, I presented the Chiara with a soprano ukulele. It was a truly magical moment, that changed my life and my work as an artist.
I left the gig with the image of Chiara’s smiling eyes imprinted on my heart. I received so much love that day. And so, this is my new favorite game I call “the magic penny”, a gift of receiving is inseparable from the gift of giving.
I am so grateful for the opportunity to participate in this work, and moments like Chiara’s benefit concert, are how I learn more deeply what this work is about.
When battling cancer, illness of any kind, or grief there is a tendency in our medical system to focus on the symptoms and to focus on the downward spiral. Music, play and laughter give us other options. A way to honor the situation through transforming the energy through hope and joy. Even death calls for joy.
Any one have extra instruments and/or Ukulele’s laying around? I know a bunch more kids in hospitals who could use them.
I boarded the train in Portland with a guitar and a Ukulele. It was an all night train, 17 hours beginning at 2pm, ending at 8am the next day. After discovering the sight seeing car, where people sit to watch the scenery move by. I noticed the quietness. It was quiet NOT because people weren’t listening to music, but because people were listening to music on headphones.
Being the stealth folky networker that I am, I saw an opportunity for a song circle.
First action, to find out if I could get away with playing guitar and song sharing on the sight seeing train car…..
I traveled via Bolt Bus from Seattle to arrive Portland and meet up with the Primordial Soul Sisters, the lovely sirens whom I met at SInging Alive in Oregon. I enjoyed getting to know Portland via bike ride and park visiting. Arriving at The Happy Clam, we were greeted by a lovely group of porch people and the warm welcome of Albert. The concert began with the Primordial Soul Sisters, singing their songs of heart and earth justice. The room quickly filled with eager ears and singing voices, to accompany the siren songs. I love the simplicity of the Primordial Soul Sister’s songs which by nature, invite people to join in and sing together with ease. I finished the set with a lovely mix of Appalachian Songs and new originals. The Clam easily held 40 people, eager to support the folk music. I love the intimacy of house concerts, and how they enable performers and audience to feel at home, and shoeless. Perhaps this setting allows for people to be more comfortable, and in turn more open to singing along.
I just barely made the Am-Trak train, to make an all night journey to San Francisco.
The Am Trak proved to be a folky adventure. More on that later !
A beautiful home coming for me in both Asheville North Carolina and Southwest Virginia. The Journey began with a gig at the Sacred Embodiment center in Asheville, North Carolina, a sweet community space that hosts music, dance and other community enhancing events. The raw food was great and the audience was attentive and good singers see the video clip here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSJT2nOf7GM .
The rest of my stay in Asheville involved several lovely Farmers Market performances, at the Montford COmmunity Market and the North Asheville Tailgate Market. I love the bustle and colorful montage of community at Farmers Markets. We had several successful sing alongs and dance numbers with children and their parents passing by. Ate locally made tamales and basked in the shady Ash tree canopy at the UNCA Market. My Favorite aspect of the markets are the constant flow of people walking by, providing consistent opportunity for spontenaety and energetic family interactions. The movement of the crowd all around our performance, enables us to interact with our music in a truly unique way, and the excitement of family and friends gathering at the market to celebrate local food and crafts, is uplifting and good for the heart. I enjoy the movement of the crowd, a constrast to the sometimes stagnant environment of a “sit down” concert.
Later, in Blacksburg VA , my beloved place of birth, I played two concerts. One at the Vegetarian Restaurant, Gillies. and the following evening in Floyd, VA at the Dog Town Music Hall. Dog Town was a special treat. Bass Player F.M. Turner, my long time friend and very best music teacher, joined me for the concert. The music hall was packed with eager fans and locals, excited to see us. Our friend Billy joined us on stage with his Flute. The beauty of Flute, Upright bass, and Guitar/voice, took us on a journey of inspiration and vision. At the end of the night, the Dog Town asked us back for another show. Playing music with F.M turner just gets better and better. I couldn’t ask for a more talented and versatile musician to fit my also versatile and ever evolving style.
The tour finished with a sweet gig back in Asheville NC at the Firestorm Cafe and Bookstore. A small crowd that night, however, we had rich sing alongs and we were graced with the presence of Ballad Singer and Community Organizer Saro Lynch Thomason of the Blair Pathways project.Â SaroÂ is one of my favorite musicians and song collectors in the Blue Ridge area, and she is the facilitator of the Bi-weekly Asheville Community Sing, a group that has changed my life and deeply inspired me to dig into musical Appalachian roots. Â Blair Pathways works to “Celebrate Blair Mountain through Music”, basically an organization that seeks to protect Mountains and raise awareness about Mountain top removal through collections of stories and songs. Â Truly inspiring and beautiful ! Â Please visit the website to learn about Cd that Blair Pathways is about to release , August 1st, a collection of songs about the mountains.
Now, back on the North West corner of the United States, I say farewell for now to my home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and push my nose to the ground , writing new songs and enjoying the watery landscape.
An evening at the lovely Ike Box Theater in Salem Oregon, I enjoyed accompanying musically for the Salem Playback Theater Troupe. I sincerely love narrating dance, theater and scenery with musical musings. I was invited to join the Portland Playback troupe as an accompanying musician, and I am really excited to continue this collaborative works. Play back theater is a strong tool for community building, solidarity and story telling. Thanks everyone !
Wow, what a lovely show in Eugene Oregon last sunday night. The space was held nicely for a house concert, in a lovely backyard dance studio. I played a nice first set, sharing my love for appalachian sing alongs, and as i finished the set with original songs, the room began to move and dance improv. It was beautifully radical to be part of a room full of people, fully willing to express themselves and allow the music to move through them freely, boundlessly. Aimee Ringle then played an engaging set of originals and audience participation numbers, and the room continued dancing. WHo says that folk music has to be a sit down concert? This evening was particularly inspiring to me in that, a dancing crowd informs my performance in a particularly somatic and wholistic way. I’d love to have dancers in my traveling folk band.
ietnamese will take care of you, if you smile and wave.
I held onto my ukulele, and my backpack sat tight and heavy on my back as Sophia raced through afternoon motor bike traffic to the cities northern bus station. First we went to the central station, and realized we had 20 more minutes to ride in order to catch the right bus. â€œare you scaredâ€, she said muffled through her helmet and we whizzed through traffic going the wrong way down a one way street. We jumped onto the sidewalk to make a short cut, just in time to catch a green light on the next street over. â€œare you scaredâ€ i replied. â€œim scared if youâ€™re scared, otherwise iâ€™m okâ€. In Vietnam, there is no need to be scared, unless you see a Vietnamese person feel scared. The Vietnamese are perhaps the most fiercely fearless people I have ever encountered. They just keep going, even if it means wading through 4 feet of water with a stalled motor bike, piling 5 people on a motor bike to get across town, or driving a city bus through mud thick back roads at 11pm. Â I just barely caught the bus to Duc Linh, accidentally leaving my water behind on my friends motor bike basket. As I looked out the window, i tried not cry. I felt vulnerable without water. I kept remembering the words of my friend in my head â€œbe sure to bring water, because you will need itâ€. It was supposed to be a three hour bus ride, but in Vietnam you can estimate three hours to easily convert to 4 or 6. I sat wedged next two four people in the very back corner of the â€œbad busâ€. I was sweating profusely, from running through the bus station to buy my ticket, and jumping on the tiny bus with my hikers backpack and blatant foreigner appearance. I sat quietly in the back, pretending not to be freaked out, trying to forget my thirst and praying that I would make it to Duc Linh. There are two buses to Duc Linh, or so I had heard. One is called the â€œgood busâ€ and one is called the â€œbad Busâ€.
Apparently I got on the â€œbad busâ€. I guess they call it the bad bus because its vintage is close to 1960, the air conditioner doesnâ€™t work, and the shocks are hardly functioning when you hit the muddy potholes. Â Â I stared out the window and prayed. i wasnâ€™t feeling very outgoing or clowny, but i knew that eventually i would have to make friends on the bus. i was after all crammed aside them like a sardine fish in a tin can.
after 2 hours of silence, i pulled an apple out of my pocket and offered it to the woman next to me. this was my offering for friendship, my disguised cry for help. she took the apple. i pulled out my notebook, where i have written basic Vietnamese language. i showed her my efforts to learn Vietnamese, immediately she got very excited, and like many Vietnamese i have met, eagerly began to help me with my pronunciation. i used my dictionary to spell â€œdrinking waterâ€, immediately the woman began asking every person on the bus for water, and a bottle was handed back to me. moments later, the entire back of the bus engaged me in conversation. â€œwhere are you fromâ€, â€œ how old are youâ€, â€œwhat is your nameâ€? Â Finally, the question i had been waiting for â€œwhere are you going?â€ This question came from a young man sitting in front of me. he wrote his question down on a piece of paper. maybe he was too shy to speak. I showed him the address i had been given by the Duc Linh Organization. He didnâ€™t recogize it, infact no one on the bus recognized the address, and they told me that the way it was written didnâ€™t make sense. i began to feel nervous as the sun lowered, and the bus hobbled further and further into the dusty back country roads of south-central Vietnam. I knew I was safe though, my new friends on the bus passed my paper around, trying their best to figure out where i needed to go. Â Finally, a phone call to the organization, and a handing of the phone to the bus driver took care of my problem, the driver showed me a thumbs up to let me know he knew where i was going. saved by the cell phone, and my new friends on the bus. local buses have a bad reputation for being â€œscaryâ€ for foreigners. this may be true, only if you keep to yourself, and try very hard not to make friends with the locals. the best ticket to make a friend with a Vietnamese person, try to speak Vietnamese, ask them to teach you basic words, and i promise that person will watch your back, they might even hold your hand to help you across the street just to make sure you make it home safely.
So much to say, so little time to write it all down.
The magic continues to unfold. My second week in Vietnam, and I feel though I have experienced life times of love, friendship, food and adventure. Today I went to the swanky coffee shop on the corner, near my hotel in â€œforeigner townâ€ . I caught the closest hotel I could find last night, because I had a busy day ahead of me in Ho Chi Minh City. Â After the dynamic week of clowning with Humanitarian International and Geshundheit!, my dear new American friends and trip leaders Fungus and Skete (long time friends and clown staff of Geshundheit! and dear teachers of the how to maintain the spirit of love) left with five other clowns who visited Vietnam for the one week session of clowning and caring in the City.
We had a dynamic and eye opening experience here in Ho Chi Minh. From the anarchy chaos of the motor-bike traffic, monsoon rains at night, kaereoke songs floating across the air on weekends, the occasional lost bus driver on back roads making circles, Â the unexpected moments when our clowns showed at a hospital expecting to sit by bedsides and to our surprise a DJ was set up and a stage cleared for us so that we marionettes to jazzy disco music for the cheering lobby spectators. When we tried to sneak off â€œstageâ€ to find hospital beds, we were herded back into the crowd. Here I took the opportunity to encourage near by children to perform acrobatics and break dancing (this took the pressure off of me). In those moments of forced slap stick theater, it was obvious that our mission for bedside clowning had been lost in translation between the organizers and the hospital administration. Or perhaps it was more convenient for the hospital staff to keep us contained in a cage of disco music, where we could be watched and where we would not see the actual hospital conditions.
Last friday, the American clown group left for home, and I remained here in Ho Chi Minh City, gudied by my new Vietnamese friends whose care and guidance extended into a motherly spiritual guidance. My first day alone in the city, I cried. My journal entry reads â€œDay one Melt Downâ€. Â I felt Â sad to loose the group as I packed my bag to prepare for moving into a new hotel. Suddenly I had to make many choices on my own. No set schedule, no bus driver to guide me every day, no group of english speaking americans to tell me what is next. Seemingly, II was being stripped of my hemogeonized padded room in a unfamiliar City of over 8 million people. Â I questioned what I had set myself up for. For a moment, fear passed through my body. Fear that was coupled with sub-concious emotional burnout from the intensive days of clowning the week before. However, I decided to face this fear. The fear of the unknown. The fear of losing confidence in my â€œfalse senseâ€ of security. Participating in social work as a caring clown has taught me so much about this fear, the fear of getting close. This fear not only involves getting close to other people. It is also the fear of closeness to oneself and ones intuition.
My first night in the hotel, I took my ukulele down to the lobby to perform for the matriarch family members of â€œLiliâ€ the friendly hotel manager. They clapped and laughed and in exchange for my songs, gave me lesson in counting in ten in Vietnamese. Lili always sings after 6pmâ€, said one of the backpackers whoâ€™d been at the hotel for two nights. After meeting Liliâ€™s relatives, It was clear that her enthusiam for song and dance was genetic.
One of the cultural aspects that I admire the most in Vietnamese Culture is the family unit remains very close and connected. Most commonly, all family members including children and elders remain living together until death or marriage. One day after resting in a hotel in the city, Â I took a bus to Muine Beach, a small town just outside of Phan Thiet. The actual town where I stay was called â€œHamptonâ€. The REAL Muine where most locals lived, was situated about 12 Kilometers down the road from Hampton on a little fishing port. For the sake of tourist attraction, Hampton is reffered to as â€œMuineâ€. Â Aside from a few whose houses are situated in the tourist district, many locals only come to the fake â€œmuineâ€ to work at a restaurant, a resort, a toursit company, or to sell fruits or souvenir. According to a motor-bike driver â€œThanhâ€ whom I spoke with during a monsoon rain storm at a book store, locals are often forbidden by resorts to swim on the beaches or sometimes lcoals are forbidden to mingle at the bars with tourists. â€œThey are the people of this place. They live here. This is their home. And they are not allowedâ€, said Thahn with a compassionate distressed tone in his voice. As the rain poured down and the power cut off, rain filled the streets and quickly formed a lake. The ocean waves crashed heavily, sounding much like dump truck pouring gravel.
Thahn and I sat in the dark on small plastic chairs underneath a slightly leaky tin roof. At first I felt concerned that we would be washed away by a huge wave created by the fierce storm. None of the Vietnamese looked concerned, so I contained my nervous reaction and sat down to listen as my new friend Thahn told stories about the life of a local in the Muine area. Thahn explained that many people work long hours every day for very little pay, at resorts whom charge tourists up to 200$ a night for stay, workers can make as little at 50$ dollars per MONTH for a full time job at the same resort. Meanwhile, tourist often leave no tip for waiters because it is â€œnot custom in Vietnamâ€ for tipping. Â My advice to travelers; Leave a tip and gain some good Karma while have to opportunity, what are you going to with that extra 25 cents anyway? Due to the drastic dollar difference between US$ and Dong, Tourists practically treat Vietnamese Dong like Monopoly game money. 5,000 of Dong is close to 6 cents in US dollars. So, many tourists take home a 100,000 dollar bill for a wall hanging souvenir, mean-while many Vietnamese workers only make 100,000 for 10-12 hours of work. Â Yet another way that I am blown away by the class differences that stretch across the world.
Though I too am somewhat of a tourist, I try my best to distinguish myself from the typical tourist by smiling and waving to locals, making eye contact, at the very least, making an effort to acknowledge their humanity as they persistently attempt to sell me something on the street. Â This acknowledgement or humanity, is something that I feel many socially privileged people feel little obligation to do. Â So with this observation, my new practice is to be friendly whenever possible. I canâ€™t promise that I always accomplish this friendly disposition in my moments of neurotic self-indulgence. Sometimes I too turn away from pan handlers on the street, for my own convenience and self â€œprotectionâ€.
I have to go now, today I catch a bus to Duc Linh, to work for one week in a small town. Â If you appreciate what you hear from my blog, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and make a donation through on the first page of my website. I am requesting donations for aid in my transportation, food and lodging, as I continue two more weeks of volunteer clowning and music therapy in hospitals, orphanges and shelters for handicapped in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Â Â More Later. Blessings.
leaving san franscisco, i left all fear and expectation behind. welcome to a journey to the unknown, and enjoy yourself as you practice your ZEN. Smile, you are headed to Asia.
i was delighted to received a korean meal on first flight, the flight was 13 hours, the longest flight i’d ever embarked upon. i sat next to a woman who was a retired olympic skiier, she took good care of me. i did thai chi with some korean men in the aisle, you have to get up and move on a 13 hour flight. we jogged in place for a moment or two, and shared exercise routines.
i was glad that i answered “rice” when the flight attendant asked “chicken or rice?”. The meal came with seaweed soup, hot rice, pickles, mushrooms and mung bean sprouts. air plane food from my wildest fantacy.!
the hotel we are staying at is immaculate and fancy compared to the 30$ a night places i grew up with in the southeast. in the morning we enjoy a breakfast of my dreams. we have a 5 course meal for breakfast, withÂ choices of fruit bar with amazing tropical fruits, a vegetable bar, various vietnamese dishes, a beautiful young man making fresh noodle soup with basil leaves and fried eggs on the side, and then there is the vietnamese coffee which is amazingly chocolately and fresh. i could go on for days about the food really. i don’t miss bread , AT ALL. mung beans can replace bread any day.Â many of us find that the first page of our journal is reserved just for our food description of the day. fresh fruits and vegetables, always.Â yesterday at the hospital we were treated to lunch by the staff, even the hospital food was amazing and seemingly gourmet, poached fish baked inside of a crispy philo, tied at the top with a leek leaf, with roasted peppers on the side and a fruit plate of atleast 5 different varieties of colorful tropical fruits. we are treated like royalty by our hosts. they always give us more than we can eat, and impress us with beautiful food arrangements. the gratitude is piled high in our hearts as we taste these gifts
today is our second clowning day. we are going to two or three orphanages, one of which is a home for children with deformities and various disabilities. we are excited to visit this place in contrast to yesterdays experiemce where we spent several hours in a very elite high class hospital, where patients were no where to be found, and we mostly clowned for staff and chipper waiting room bystanders. we rode the elevator looking for people “in beds”, and the hospital mananger kept herding us towards lobbies and porches (there for keeping us away from the areas where people in serious condition were staying). as clowns we generally try to find the people who are the most isolated, the people who are suffering the most, and we go to them.Â yesterday afternoon we though we were on our way to a “homeless shelter”. after an hour drive through the bustling motercycle filled streets, we ended up on a narrow dirt road nestled in a back street alley. i removed my shoes at the door, and we walked in to find ourselves at a childrens school for poor children whose parents work too much to care for them every day of the week. we walked in, and to our surprise the room was set up like an auditorium, as if we were there to do a “performance” or educational program. in this awkward moment, we stood for about one minute looking surprised and feeling at a loss of what to do (normally we do very improvised one on one clowning, not in the staged performance style). i jumped in and began teaching the kids songs and doing a program similar to the nursing homes… sing along songs, and small english lessons. thanks drama degree, you are getting more and more useful every day. especially in those “what now” moments. the quote of the day is “do something…….anything” . the kids sit ten or twelve to a bench, packed into the classroom like sardines. smiling and anticipating our every move. i searched through my index of creativity, i wanted to give them something special. so, we practiced saying “i love you”. we repeated “i love you” over and over, and soon the chant became an instant song. soon, we were led across the street to the “baby” room. 1 and two year olds sitting around looking adorable and lovable. one child held his head in his brothers lap and screamed “momma momma”. the women caring for the babies were lovely and all smiles.
third gig, on the second day: another school with children ranging from ages 1-15. all eyes were on me, once again. as it seemed that we were expected to “teach” or “perform” something for the kids. i felt like a pre-school english teacher. eyes , and the voices in my head said ” ok ash, you have to do something”. lets get in a circle i said. this was our third gig of the day, i was happy to sit down, cross leged with the kids. more english lessons, songs and clowning lessons. we moved around the circle practicing our clown faces, expressions and gibberish language. we did some warm up movements with sound and shaking it all out. we learn “itsy bitsy spider”, and practiced pronouncing the words, one phrase at a time. at one point i looked at the translator and said…..”help”? hoping that she would have some ideas about exercises to do. sheÂ just looked at me and smiled….. ok……i said, lets sing the ABCs. the kids knew this song and so did the teacher, however half way through the song i noticed the alphabet becoming jumbled into a different order…… EFGOLPKRSVTWXZ. I liked this version. I appreciated the variation.