Before moving to Memphis, I’d never spent more than 7 years in any one spot. I’ve lived in five different states, so my connections are pulled taut from pins all over the country, and that tugging is sometimes a little exhausting. It means a whole lot of missing. So when I have the rare chance to reconnect with someone who means a lot but lives so far away, it’s one my of very favorite things in the world.
Musicians live a similar experience, but magnified exponentially for every year on the road. It’s a constant cycle of connection and separation, and most of my tour-heavy friends have reported the deep loneliness and wariness that can come from that.
So with those two situations in mind and at play, our show with Logan Magness, John Elliott, Kelly McFarling & co. felt like a brief but powerful respite to our respective long-distance lives.
Memphis native Logan Magness is now singing the songs in San Francisco, but thanks to a local wedding, was back in town at the same time as the rest of this Bay Area crew. He started the show for us, playing for brand new fans as well as good friends and his own folks. His “Memphis on My Mind” created an emotional bridge to John Elliott’s “Minnesota,” both paeans to homelands (semi-)lost. As John noted, they both wrote these songs about missing someplace they left, when really, wouldn’t it have been easier to just stay put? (The unspoken answer is yes, of course, but then what’s to sing about if you don’t intentionally introduce personal turmoil?)
John Elliott, as many of you have heard repeatedly by now, was the very first house show guest I ever hosted, and it was especially meaningful to have him join us exactly three years later for what turned out to be a very chill but extra cozy birthday party. He played a fully solo, acoustic set with us last time, but the 2017 version was filled with friends and harmonies and constant instrument swapping (and a well placed Cory Branan cover). He and Megan Keely gorgeously performed their co-written “The Sweet Spot” before they were joined on-stage (okay, on-dining-room floor) by Avi Vinocur, Andrew Brennan, and Kelly McFarling.
It was the first time we’ve tried to fit a full band into that space, and I’m not sure we could have managed it if all the musicians weren’t already used to being jammed into a minivan together. They made it work, though, wrapping up John’s set with a jangling rendition of “Take It Easy.” Despite our long history, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen John play with a full band, and it was delightful on several levels to see him up there making music with people he loves.
After an especially chatty break (maybe that was just me?), we rolled into Kelly McFarling’s portion of the evening. As a newcomer to her work, I’d been really excited to see Kelly throughout the months we had this show planned, and I was even more enthusiastic after hearing her very new release (dropped the day before the show), Water Dog. Most of her set featured songs from the new album – like the sneaky-soft love song “Record” and wistful mental travelogue “Country” – but the actual make-up of the band metamorphosed throughout the performance. As you’ll see in the videos, Kelly played banjo, electric guitar, and acoustic interchangeably, with Andrew, Avi, and John all swapping instruments while Megan took on harmony vocal and occasional rhythm guitar duties. No matter the set-up, the result was always beautiful, heart-felt, and organic.
It really is striking to see and hear a collaboration among artists with so much respect and affection for each other. Their comfort could have made the audience feel a little like outsiders, but instead we were welcomed into their circle, joining their traveling tribe. Even though this group is on the road together for the long haul, we still felt we’d been treated to a truly one-of-a-kind night.
Since this Folk All Y’all adventure began three years ago, I’ve welcomed hundreds of people into my home, from close pals and casual acquaintances to new neighbors and virtual strangers. The musicians we’ve hosted have ranged from a high school classmate to an artist I played on repeat in high school. As overwhelming and slightly scary as it sometimes seems, we’ve had nothing but amazing experiences at every show, and I believe that’s because there’s something a little magical about sharing this art in this space with these people. There’s a reason it’s called folk music, after all. It’s a celebration of our humanity. And it’s my pleasure and privilege to celebrate with all y’all.