“Now the stage is set
You can feel your own heart beating in your chest
This life’s not over yet
So we get up on our feet and do our best
We play against the fear
We play against the reasons not to try
We’re playing for the tears
Burning in the happy angel’s eyes”– David Wilcox, “Show the Way”
Y’all, please indulge me for a bit, because I still can’t really believe this is my life.
It’s been 25 years since I first listened to a promotional copy of David Wilcox’s album Home Again that my high school boyfriend left behind when he departed for a two-year mission to Colombia. I have no idea if that boyfriend had heard the record or connected with it the way I did; he’d picked it up for free at his job at Musicland. It didn’t matter. From the opening twirl of “Burgundy Heart-Shaped Medallion,” I was harpooned. I listened to the album every night as I went to sleep, needing to be out by the time “Mighty Ocean” came on yet always hoping I wouldn’t miss it.
Over the years I gathered more of David’s albums and held them close through the transition from youth to adulthood. As an aspiring writer, I was awed by David’s precision in getting directly to the heart of a story, accented perfectly by melodies that added deeper layers of context. When Geoff and I started dating four years ago and realized we were both long-time fans of David’s work, that felt like a good sign of things to come, but I had no earthly idea what those things would turn out to be. An effort to get birthday-present tickets for a Wilcox concert turned into hosting 80 people for a house show in Geoff’s own home, which spurred the official creation of Folk All Y’all so that people would believe it was a real concert series (after all, it had a website).
That show went so incredibly well that we did it again six months later, and then again, and again (twice). By the time he arrived in Memphis this week, I’d hosted David more often in the last three years than my own parents. And in the meantime, Folk All Y’all presented 30 shows and actually became the thing that early website just hinted at. Folk All Y’all wouldn’t exist without David Wilcox, not just because he was the reason I started hosting shows on a serious level but also because I’m not sure how I would have found this community if he hadn’t introduced me to it.
With all that history, both distant and recent, you might think that these shows would be a little old-hat by now, but here’s the thing: nothing is old-hat with David. The gift that provides such truth and compassion in his music is the sense of wonder he brings to every situation. The things you and I take for granted are opportunities for exploration. And when he’s in a new environment, such as our listening room space at 11 West Huling, David’s truly in his element. From the moment he walked in (and promptly hopped on a bike and rode around the office), David was wide open to whatever the evening would hold.
And the evening was even more than I could have hoped for. Over two generous sets, David shared songs covering almost his entire expansive discography, from his second album to his upcoming 19th, with wonderfully complementary covers from Sinatra to Springsteen sprinkled in. Like me, many of the fans in attendance discovered David’s work decades ago, but there was also a solid contingent of guests who had come at the strong recommendation of die-hards like us, and it was a joy to see them be struck just as hard by the purity, craft, and honesty of this music. Not even competition from a passing train could stop David, who took the opportunity to harmonize with the whistle and create a song on the fly celebrating the vision of Crosstown Concourse.
At one point I took a break from filming and photographing to just sit on the floor and listen, and when David strummed the opening chords of “Show the Way,” the tears sprung up so quickly I gasped. Not only was I propelled back to the version of myself who played Big Horizon on repeat in my dorm room, but I felt every one of the 25 years in between, and how ridiculously, unexpectedly, and beautifully life had brought me and David and everyone in that room together at that moment, listening to a song that resonates just as much now as it did then.
David writes music because his heart has stories to tell, but they aren’t just his own. David’s is a heart opened by curiosity and empathy to take in the stories of everyone around him. It’s an exceptionally rare thing, and a constant inspiration. David was a guiding force in this series’ existence long before we met, and I’ll never get over feeling impossibly lucky that we’ve been able to create this story together.
I recorded a LOT of video. You can check out more on our YouTube channel.
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