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No one in my family should read this.

I always get blowback from my family about this story. I expect to catch hell again. I love y'all and I understand, but really you should stop reading now. Okay. Up to you.

I learned this story from a newscast thirteen years after the fact, which is a disappointing way to hear that your grandfather was murdered. Let me start here:

My grandmother, Pauline Barfield, died of a brain aneurysm in 1969. My grandfather, Jennings, had emphysema and needed care. Velma Bullard Burke was a coworker with Pauline at a department store and had already come in to help care for Jennings.

After Pauline died, Jennings married Velma. That was August of 1970. I was born in November. There are pictures of Jennings holding me, but I don't remember him. In the pictures, his enormous hands make me look about the size of a kitten.

In March of 1971, when I was four months old, Jennings died of what was then determined to be heart failure. Velma moved into her parents' home in another part of Fayetteville, North Carolina, the town where I was born. In December of 1974, Velma's mother Lillian showed symptoms of a serious stomach illness and died after being admitted to the hospital. There was no diagnosis or autopsy.

What only a few people knew about Velma is that she was addicted to prescription drugs. After Lillian died, Velma served six months in prison for writing bad checks. After Velma's release, she worked as a home health nurse for an elderly couple, Montgomery and Dollie Edwards. A couple of years later, Montgomery Edwards died. A few weeks after, Dollie Edwards also died from an undiagnosed stomach illness.

Velma Barfield went on to care for another elderly couple, John Henry and Record Lee. John Henry Lee died within months from what doctors said was a severe stomach virus. Soon after, Velma's boyfriend Stuart Taylor began to complain of severe stomach pain. He was admitted to the hospital and was dead within a matter of days. An autopsy was ordered. Before the autopsy was returned, Velma's sister called the police and told them that Velma had poisoned Taylor and others.

Velma confessed to poisoning the Edwards, John Henry Lee, and her own mother, Lillian Burke, claiming that she had only wanted to make them ill in order to hide the fact that she was stealing money from them to support her drug use. Later, she confessed to killing Stuart Taylor. She never confessed to killing my grandfather. Velma was convicted of one account of first-degree murder in 1978. She was sentenced to death.

In 1984, I was thirteen years old. I saw a newscast about a grandmother about to be executed in Raleigh. It was, of course, big news. There were protests and appeals for clemency. Her last name was Barfield. I had never met anyone outside my mother's family with that name. So I started asking questions. That's how I found out my grandfather was murdered.

Velma's legal appeals had been denied. Governor Jim Hunt denied the requests for clemency. Velma was given a choice between gas and lethal injection. Margie Velma Bullard Burke Barfield was executed on November 2nd 1984 at Central Prison in Raleigh, N.C. She was the first woman put to death by lethal injection in the United States, and the last woman to be executed in the state of North Carolina.

Fifteen years later, I was taking a coffee break with my friend Jerry Brown. We were building his studio and, in between construction, recording what would be my first album. I told him the story I just told you.

Jerry said, "You mean to tell me you haven't written a song about that?" And he sent me home to work on it.

It took me a long time to write this song. I read old newspaper articles. I found a book that Velma wrote while in prison, called "Woman On Death Row." I asked my family questions, but they didn't want to talk about it. Jerry Bledsoe wrote 'Death Sentence' about the murders and no one in the family would talk to him either.

Who can blame them? The only other person in my mother's family who seems to have come to terms with it is also a writer. I think telling a hard story is the foundation of healing. I think reading a tragic story is moving but writing it can save your life.

One evening, I was about to rehearse with a friend of mine in what used to be High Strung Instrument Repair above Ninth Street in Durham, North Carolina. My friend got a phone call and I picked out a dark new melody while I waited for him. These lyrics came pouring out just as they are, pulled and shaped by months of research and contemplation into this simple and gripping old-time murder ballad. When my friend got off the phone, I played it for him.

This song has been covered more than any other song I've written. Jack Lawrence recorded it. Larry Keel played it on tour. Before I took the stage for the first time at Merlefest, I got word that Sam Bush had already played this song in his set across campus.

You can listen to and purchase "Velma" here: https://jonathanbyrd.bandcamp.com/track/velma

You can order the album Wildflowers on CD here: http://www.waterbug.com/wordpress/product/wildflowers/

Thanks for reading and listening. Your fan,

JByrd

 

P.S. I'm playing in Ontario and Quebec next weekend. I tend to sell out shows up there, so buy your tickets now! Thanks

  • Apr 21 Fri

    Pearl Company

    Hamilton, Ontario

  • Apr 22 Sat

    Greenbank Centennial Hall

    Greenbank, Ontario

  • Apr 23 Sun

    The Black Sheep Inn

    Wakefield, Quebec

  • Apr 26 Wed

    Gladstone Ballroom

    Toronto, Canada

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Eli's Cotton Gin

In November of 1999 I took another trip with my mother, this time to Gilroy, California to see my aunt and uncle. My uncle managed a garlic plant in the Garlic Capital of the World. I was still working on my first record, piece by piece, as Jerry's studio come together. Wildflowers is one of only two albums I've started recording before having all the songs written. I didn't know I was making an album until maybe a year into it. 

The most striking part of the California trip for me was a road trip to King's Canyon and Sequoia National Parks- not the parks themselves, although they are some of the most inspiring places in our country. We've all seen pictures of the giant sequoias. But no one can take a picture that could convey the sweeping agriculture of the Central Valley. You can't photograph the immensity of it and still capture the character of it. I couldn't have imagined it. Driving through it changed the way I thought about food for the rest of my life.

We drove through orange trees, and absolutely nothing but orange trees, for miles on end. Bare fields were leveled razor flat with lasers for perfect irrigation, prepped for the next season's crop. Bales of cotton the size of boxcars sat waiting to be hauled to the gins- an invention that became the driving metaphor for this song. 

We stopped somewhere to pee. The smell of cow manure was overwhelming. My uncle said the feedlot was about ten miles away. That's a line in the song. 

We also had visited Pebble Beach, and the contrast of the places and people was irresistible. My narrator wishes he was rich enough to be in Pebble Beach, but he's proud of his work. 

Sometimes an experience is so rich, all a songwriter has to do is make it rhyme. "From Gilroy to Sequoia" begins the chorus.  

You can listen to and purchase Eli's Cotton Gin: https://jonathanbyrd.bandcamp.com/track/elis-cotton-gin

Wildflowers album on CD- http://www.waterbug.com/wordpress/product/wildflowers/

 

Thanks for listening. Your fan,  

 

JByrd

 

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The First Song on My First Album

In May of 1999, I took a two-week road trip with my mother. I was 28.

The plan was to drive from North Carolina to Yellowstone. The way out, we'd drive northwest across the Nebraska Sandhills, up into the Black Hills, and then into the park through Cody, Wyoming. Coming back, we'd head south and take that left turn at Albuquerque that Bugs Bunny always seemed to miss. Then Interstate 40 all the way home.

We made a deal about accommodations. We'd stay in a hotel every other night and camp out every other night. We had maps made of paper. We had cameras with film in them. We had no phones. Looking back eighteen years, it seems like we were pioneers in a covered wagon.

The nights we stayed in hotels, mom would pop up bright and early and I would moan and groan my way to the car. The nights we camped out, it was the other way around. The only major setback was an avalanche in the Sylvan Pass. We had to drive around on the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, which was a blessing. I don't think there's a more beautiful road in the world.

We woke up in our tent in Yellowstone to greet bison, elk, and geese heading down to a bend in the river. We heard about a grizzly bear and drove down to watch it turn a dead bison over with its teeth- the moment I truly understood what a grizzly bear is. We backtracked from a trail of blood north of Jackson Hole. We drove through a hail storm in New Mexico, where we could see lightning to the sides of us hitting and spreading out over the desert floor, turning sand into glass. We drove across Texas in the peak of wildflower season.

When we got home, I continued to work on my first full-length record in a studio that I helped to build, a place called The Rubber Room. When we had started recording, it was literally a closet. By the time my album was done, the studio had four recording rooms and a control room. I've recorded or mixed most of my albums there.

Though it was not recorded first, Wildflowers became the first track on the album Wildflowers. Not a particularly original title, but then wildflowers are not particularly original. No one wonders if the wildflowers will ever come out with something new. They are beautiful and dependable and simple. This album is the same.

The song Wildflowers is a retelling of the last leg of our journey, backwards this time, and on a train. I always wonder as I travel, what was this place like when there was only a footpath? When there was only a railroad? Songs live in places and this one lived along the I-40 corridor. I didn't know it when I was traveling, but I lost a girl while I was gone, and she's in the song too.

The whole album was played in an alternate tuning because I was learning it at the time. The tuning is DADGAD, from the lowest string to the highest. John Boulding of The Shady Grove Band plays the banjo, and boy howdy does he play it. Robbie Link played the bass. Tim Stambaugh sings the harmony. And that's it. The three instruments sound like a whole band, and we have to thank the engineer Jerry Brown for a little bit of that magic. He taught me how to make a record while we made my first.

Tom Paxton heard Wildflowers somehow, I still don't know how, and sent me an email. "What a treat to hear someone so deeply rooted in tradition, yet growing in his own beautiful way.” I asked him if I could quote him and he was quite gracious. It was my first really great press quote. I still thank Mr. Paxton every now and then for that.

You can listen to and purchase the early Byrd here: https://jonathanbyrd.bandcamp.com/track/wildflowers

If you're still stuck in 1999, the album is available on CD, http://www.waterbug.com/wordpress/product/wildflowers/

Thanks for listening. Your fan,

JByrd

 

 

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Word from the Byrd: Monday Report #8

I only have one thing to say in this Monday Report. I've known about this for a couple of years and I want to see it happen SO BAD. You can be a part of something awesome. But first:

 

I'm looking forward to playing some of our favorite venues this weekend.

 

THU APR 6

The Foundry

Athens GA

Neal Fountain on bass

benefit for Jacob Ohl who recently lost his lower legs in a train accident

 

FRI APR 7

White Horse Black Mountain

Black Mountain NC

Also live on WNCW at 1pm. Tune in! wncw.org

 

SUN APR 9

Muddy Creek Music Hall

Bethania, NC

"It's like church with beer." - Country Dan Collins

 

Later in the month we'll get to experience spring all over again:

 

FRI APR 21

Pearl Company

Hamilton ON

 

SAT APR 22

Greenbank Centennial Hall

Greenbank ON

 

SUN APR 23

The Black Sheep Inn

Wakefield QC

 

WED APR 26

Gladstone Hotel Ballroom

Toronto ON

 

All right. Now check this out.

 

My friend Luke Dick, he's a songwriter in Nashville. He used to drive a forklift. He used to teach philosophy. Now he writes hits. I wrote a song with him that Chris Kokesh and recorded on The Barn Birds, a song called "Sundays Loving You."

 

Luke spent part of his childhood in and around an Oklahoma strip club called the Red Dog. He's making a documentary about it and it's one of the most deserving artistic projects I've seen.

 

Humanity. Debauchery. Redemption. Forgiveness. Victory. It's all there. Please watch this: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lukedick/red-dog

 

Want to see more? Here's an even bigger bite: https://youtu.be/hSKPCKnmSb8

 

Want to see more? So do I! Let's make this thing happen. I chipped in $300 because I want to go to the premiere.

 

*************

 

Food:

 

We discovered yet another great taco truck in northeast Raleigh on Capitol Blvd, "El Tejano." It doesn't look like much sitting there at a gas station. I only pulled in because I was broke and desperately hungry after an afternoon of shopping for a hot tub. (Hey, I won't always be broke.)

 

Anyway I figure what's two bucks? I'll get a taco and make it home without yelling at my kid. There were no pickled veggies on the counter. No limes. Just a metal napkin dispenser and a tub of canned jalapeños. Not promising.

 

"Do you have sodas?" I love a tamarind soda with my tacos.

 

The man pointed at the gas station. "For drink!" he shouted. The gas station had what gas stations have. Nothing special.

 

But oh. Then the taco came. The meat. The freshness. The surprising spiciness. I had to give my wife a bite. We ended up getting six more. The chicken at a taco truck is usually an afterthought- you know, they have to have chicken so they get some at Sams Club. Not this chicken. Tender. Smoky. "Best taco truck chicken ever," said my wife.

 

She even got his card. "El Tejano." Capitol Blvd. Raleigh. Get you some.

 

 ************

 

The Official Instagram Monday Report photo is from my weekend helping friends build a straw bale addition onto their home. It's a beautiful messy project. I brought them some daffodils from my garden in a plastic water bottle that I found in my truck. He took it and set it in the window of their future bathroom. "Our first art," he said, and we got to work. 

 

Now go give Luke some money. See y'all at a show. 

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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Word from the Byrd: Monday Report #7

I met Rodney Bursiel in Wimberley, Texas at Blue Rock Studios

Blue Rock is a stone fortress and one of the best recording studios in the world, tucked high in a live oak forest in the rolling Hill Country. Everything at Blue Rock is the best. Rodney Bursiel photographs the artists who play at Blue Rock. Because Rodney is the best. 

He also photographs sharks, crocodiles, humpback whales, and now wild horses in France. Every iteration makes me see the subject in an unexpected and visceral way. Rodney Bursiel makes me wonder what photography even is. The texture is a super-realistic illustration. Or a classical painting. 

Follow Rodney on instagram. Every picture is incredible. Every picture will make you wonder how. 

More updates after these tour dates:

APR 6 THU
The Foundry
Athens, GA
benefit for 17-year-old Jacob Ohl, who lost his legs recently in a train accident. Also playing: Natti Love Joys and Dyrty Jay's Gangstagrass Gospel Hour

APR 7 FRI
White Horse Black Mountain
Black Mountain, NC 

APR 9 SUN
Muddy Creek Music Hall
Winston-Salem, NC 

APR 21 THU
Pearl Company
Hamilton, Ontario

APR 23 SUN
The Black Sheep Inn
Wakefield, Quebec

APR 26 WED
Gladstone Ballroom
Toronto, Ontario 

APR 29 SAT
Eddie's Attic
Decatur, GA

Johnny and I stopped in Fayetteville, Arkansas this week to shoot some video with Red Barn Studio. Thanks to our friends The Steel Wheels for having us open for them at George’s Majestic Lounge while we were in town. 

Two days later, we were in Richmond, Virginia. One of the coolest things we’ve done lately is invite The McTell Brothers to open for us. They’ve been coming with their mom to see us for years, shyly asking for autographs and taking notes on what gear we were using or how our show had changed from the last time. Then one evening at a show, they gave us their CD. I of course asked them to autograph it. We listened on the way home and it was great! Fine guitar playing, harmony singing, and song writing. 

I think the McTell Brothers are eighteen years old now, though they sound like they’re from the 1970’s. They played a mesmerizing opening set opening at The Tin Pan, by turns sounding like the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, and the Beatles. Look for them to take over the world soon. 

We love The Tin Pan and are dreaming up a CD release show for the fall. The bartender creates a new drink for every show based on one of the band’s songs. This time it was a Temporary Tattoo, a mix of bourbon, lemon and ginger. One too many and it turns into a Permanent Tattoo. 

************

Food report: Our friend Bayard Blain, a great luthier in Fayetteville, greeted us with stewed venison and vegetables. I had a great chorizo and grits omelet the next morning at Arsaga’s Depot

We left Fayetteville very early the next day and got breakfast at our favorite spot in Little Rock, The Root Cafe. We stopped for supper at Graze, a vegetarian restaurant in East Nashville. Neither of us are vegetarians but we think they’re delicious. 

Then we had Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which is right next door to Graze. Then we had an espresso for the road at Ugly Mugs, two doors down. Talk about touring right. 

But the best meal I had this whole week was homemade curry chicken and saag paneer, and a side of breaded bacon to welcome daddy home. Yes, breaded bacon- with cornmeal, pecans, brown sugar, and cayenne. Either she loves me or she’s killing me very slowly. 

************

We’re bringing Corin Raymond back! Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, get ready for the tall-teller and song-singer from the north country. He’s got a head full of hobo jungle fever dreams and a heart as big as Ontario. To top it all off like handmade tartar sauce on fresh Maryland crabcakes, Mark Schatz will be with us on bass. The show will be unstoppable. 

MAY 10 WED
Eureka Unitarian Church
Eureka Springs, AR

MAY 11 THU
Buffalo River Concert Series
Fayetteville, AR 

MAY 12 FRI
Newton County Cabin
Western Grove, AR 

MAY 13 SAT
The Rock House
Reeds Spring, MO 

MAY 14 SUN
The Vanguard
Tulsa, OK 

MAY 16 TUE
McGonigel's Mucky Duck
Houston, TX 

MAY 17 WED
Gruene Hall
New Braunfels, TX 

MAY 19 FRI
Lake Charles Raquet Club
Lake Charles, LA 

MAY 23 TUE
Shipping and Receiving
Fort Worth, TX 

MAY 27 SAT
Kerrville Folk Festival
Kerrville, TX

************

Thanks for reading, y’all. You give all my dreams a place to go. Your fan, 

JByrd

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Word from the Byrd: Monday Report #6

We drove from North Carolina to Texas on Friday. Jackson Mississippi, in the lobby of the Rainbow Co-op, there was a chair masseuse and a fortune teller. The fortune teller's cards were fanned out across a dining table next to a chalice, colored stones, and a brass ankh. She had three customers in the fifteen minutes it took us to eat. The masseuse had one.

 

I love going to Texas. It gets warmer as you drive. Redbuds then dogwoods. Deciduous trees in leaf. Pines frothing. Somehow the speed limit goes up but everything else gets slower. Like the way people talk. Counter service. Making a left turn.

 

We even have a playlist for the Texas border. First thing up is Red Headed Stranger.

 

We did some stuff in Texas. Not shows, but the other part of the music business. I'll tell you about that but first:

 

March 22

George's Majestic Lounge

Fayetteville AR

opening for our friends The Steel Wheels!

 

March 24

The Tin Pan

Richmond VA

our friends The McTell Brothers open the show!

 

April 6

The Foundry

Athens GA

This is a benefit for 17 year old Jacob Ohl who lost his legs from the knee down in a recent train accident. Also playing: Natti Love Joys and Dyrty Jays Gangsta Grass Gospel Hour

 

April 7

White Horse Black Mountain

Black Mountain NC

 

April 9

Muddy Creek Cafe

Bethania, NC

 

Saturday night, after another fantastic experience in a growing list of fantastic experiences out at Blue Rock Studios in Wimberley, Johnny and I climbed their four-story tower and looked out over the Hill Country. Johnny took his phone out and put on Unfair Weather Friend from Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard's "Django and Jimmie." We talked about how much Paul would have loved this place he never got to play. We talked about how many friends he would have made here. We sent smoke signals out to the other side to let Paul know we miss him. (The Official Monday Report photo on Instagram is a shot of Johnny descending the stairs in the Blue Rock tower at midnight.)

 

I spent the next day deepening a friendship out in Wimberley, drinking Topo Chico and passing a guitar back and forth. We listened to The Pickup Cowboys next record through a board that was designed, built, and signed by Rupert Neve. We ate enchiladas and brewed Peruvian coffee.

 

I spent another half a day on Monday writing a song with a friend in an Airstream trailer parked outside their house. I heard some old familiar neighborhood music and said, "Is that an ice cream truck?!" We don't get ice cream trucks in the woods of Cackalacky. We ran out into the street just in time. They had a Mexican flavor called chamoy in a popsicle. The taste is a combination of pickled fruit, salt, and chilies. There's nothing else like it. Thanks to our friend Casto at Ome Calli in Beaverton, Oregon for introducing me to this distinctly Mexican flavor.

 

Our big-hearted host in Austin made us listen to our next record again in his study last night. His house is so full of great art and music, it is hard to believe he wants more of it. He'd even had a minor surgery that day, but his ears were still in good shape. This album sounds so good. I can't wait for y'all to hear it.

 

I'm very excited to have started dreaming of projects with my friend Rodney Bursiel, my pick for the Best Photographer in the World. He's in France right now shooting wild Camargue horses. I'm writing poetry about horses. Hmm.

 

Now we're back in the van with Andrew Pressman, on our way to Fayetteville Arkansas to shoot video and open the show for The Steel Wheels.

 

************

 

Food:

 

We had some great tacos in Birmingham Alabama at Tacos Dos Hermanos, a food truck on 14th street. Check Yelp for the actual location. Map apps have it wrong. It's worth the trouble.

 

We had a good breakfast at the original Kerbey Lane on Kerbey Lane in Austin. Now, I know Kerbey Lane doesn't need any more recommendations, but it's still worth recommending. I had the heuvos motuleños, a Yucatán dish with eggs, ham, beans, cheese, a red sauce, and fried plantains. Johnny had the brisket hash. We all had a damn fine cup of coffee.

 

Mostly we were fed by our hosts, which is also recommended but highly exclusive. Thanks to those who fed us. I believe that feeding others is sacred work and I try to receive it in that spirit.

 

*************

 

Water, life, spirit, and horses kept coming up this weekend. I went back and found a poem that means more to me now than when I wrote it.

 

Seven Horses

 

Seven horses swimming

All granite head and mossy eyes

Eleven bands of ripples wake

Iron brown and veed like geese

 

They stop for a moment in slow unison

The ripples gather around them in circles

Stones in the gravel bed of a zen garden

Stopping for a thousand years to pay their respects

To their destination, as if reaching it would relieve them of the struggle that they came for.

As if they have traveled this far to see God

And now they are afraid.

 

************ 

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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Word from the Byrd: Monday Report #5

Peace Love and Music  

 

Johnny and I are driving across Indiana in the snow. We started in Iowa and it's been snowing on us all day, and all day yesterday too. We just passed a frosted fiberglass ear of corn as long as a bus.

 

Last night we played Byron's Bar in Pomeroy, Iowa. A week ago, my friend Bruce called to warn me about Byron's. He had booked the gig. "You're going to think you've gone to the wrong place. Just trust me."

 

On the way there, we stopped in West Bend at the Grotto of the Redemption. A couple we stayed with in Minnesota had told us about it, only it was hard to describe. We just had to see it.

 

The Grotto is a series of man-made above-ground caves containing Biblical scenes. There is a long outdoor row of Stations of the Cross. Every inch of every wall and feature is made of beautiful stones: rose quartz, petrified wood, geodes, conch and mother of pearl. There are rosettes and mosaics everywhere you look. There are statues of biblical characters imported from Italy. It's as mind-bending as anything I've ever seen. Hard to describe. You just have to see it.

 

I did snap a picture of Charlie Muench, who joined us to play bass on this tour, walking out through the arch at the end of the Stations of the Cross. It's our Official Instagram Monday Report photo.

 

Snow drifted into the gem-studded caves. The freezing wind burned our faces. We were told we should come back during nicer weather but I thought it added to the beauty and strangeness of the place. What does God care about the weather?

 

With this dragon's hoard of geological and evangelical wonders dancing in our minds, we drove through the snowy corn-stubbled backfields of northern Iowa, up to a white metal door beneath a sign that said "Byron's Bar." A hippie bear danced around the words. The sign was faded and the building had an abandoned air. There was no neon. No OPEN sign.

 

Charlie walked in and came back out to wave us in. Inside was a dimly lit bar with hundreds of posters taped to the ceiling. A tie-dyed backdrop hung over the back wall behind the stage. Byron greeted us in overalls and a tie-dyed shirt. A couple of friendly guys helped us lug our things in. We splattered the carpet by the front door with fresh snow from our boots. The walls were hung with glossy black and whites of musicians who had played there, beer signs, and folk art. The Grotto of the Declivity. It was 3pm and there were a few people there despite the accumulating snow. The wifi password included the number "420."

 

There wasn't a real PA. Just one of those Bose towers with four inputs and no monitors. Charlie found a woofer behind the tie-dyed curtain and plugged into it. Johnny and I ran our amps hot and plugged a single vocal mic into the tower. It was impossible to know what it sounded like in the bar, but the few who were there seemed to appreciate our soundcheck and settled in to watch and listen.

 

Byron made a little pizza for Johnny. The show was supposed to start at 5. I had a bag of chips and a sarsaparilla. We met John, the man who owned the inn where we were staying after the show. He said he'd feed us a real dinner later. We met Harlan, a friendly regular in a flannel. Robin and Jo behind the bar. Most of the fifteen or so people knew each other and seemed happy to be there. A man bought two cans of Coke at the bar and sat down in front by himself to drink them and watch the show.

 

They loved the show and let us know. People hollered for lyrics they liked. A couple got up and danced by the stage, the man in his bare feet. More people showed up, dragging the snow in as the night went on. I sold about four hundred dollars worth of CDs and t-shirts. I wouldn't have guessed there was that much money in the whole bar.

 

Byron got up during the set breaks and raffled off a six-piece wire brush set. A couple of bamboo backscratchers. A three way extension plug. When their winning tickets were called, people shouted and ran up to collect their dollar store prizes. These people knew how to make fun. Byron seemed to me more and more like a saint surrounded by his acolytes.

 

I mean look at Pomeroy, Iowa on a map. If I'd thrown a dart looking for gigs and it landed on Byron's Bar, I might have checked to see if anyone was looking and thrown it again. This old hippie had gathered all the weirdos, peaceniks, partiers, and music lovers from an hour's radius of cornfields and offered a place where they could be themselves. It was impossible to be weirder or cooler than Byron, so you might as well let it all hang out.

 

Byron asked me to sign a poster. Then he gave me a framed poster signed by everyone who had been in the bar. Our host John bought one of everything I had. The guys helped us load the van.

 

The inn was a forty-five minute drive, still snowing as we followed John west from Pomeroy to Storm Lake. When we got there, John's assistant Carla had set the table with bean soup, cornbread, and saucers of fresh fruit. On the stove, there was chicken with quinoa and more chicken in a jambalaya. Green beans with tomatoes. Everything tasted like home. I had double helpings of everything.

 

We fluffled across the snowy parking lot to our rooms. The snow was still falling as we went to bed. "If you decide not to leave tomorrow, just stay here. I won't sell out anyway." We had planned to leave at 4am. I checked the weather and decided we'd better wait and try to leave at 6.

 

That's what put me in this van. We did leave at 6am. We dropped Charlie off at Chicago Midway airport and he flew home to Philadelphia. We're almost to Ohio now and it's still snowing but please don't apologize for the weather. The Midwest looks pretty in the snow. The stubbled fields. The ash trees and spruce windbreaks around the farmhouses. Black crows like pips on a domino.

 

Thanks to the Aster in Minneapolis, the Jackson Center for the Arts in Jackson, The BARC Auditorium in Windom, and Byron's Bar for a weird and wonderful tour. I wish I had time to type all about it but it's my turn to drive.

 

************

 

Food:

 

On our way up to Chicago, we stopped in Dayton and found Taqueria Garcia Mobil, an authentic taco truck with the freshest, flakiest tortillas I've had in a while. Ghostlight coffee just a few blocks away made a perfect espresso for the rest of our day's ride.

 

We picked up Charlie in Chicago and dropped our stuff off at Freehand, a funky downtown hotel with bunk beds. Then we hustled off to the subway to get a bowl of pho at Bon Bon Vietnamese Sandwich, a very unassuming little neighborhood joint. The food is better than you think it's going to be. Then of course we went to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

 

Friday morning, after our show at the Aster  in Minneapolis (which was moved due to an NBC interview with Steph Curry next door, another crazy story I don't have time to tell) we got an amazing espresso at Five Watt. I noticed Cinco de Mayo next door and we drove away with six of the biggest baddest tamales in the Midwest. It was down in the single digit temperatures, but the chicken with green sauce turned on the southern heat.

 

After we left Minneapolis, it was hard to find a good restaurant, but no lack of culture. A Mexican Pentecostal church was in full swing in the basement of the building where we played in Windom, Minnesota. The little Jackson Center for the Arts was outgrowing its walls with a newfound arts community. The good food was on our hosts' tables. As usual.

 

************

 

Charlie plays in a great band called The Stray Birds. Check out this awesome song, "Best Medicine

 

************

 

Almost every night somebody says, "That's one of the best shows I've ever seen." We're at the top of our game. Come out and see us:

 

MAR 22 WED

Georges Majestic Lounge

Fayetteville AR 

opening for The Steel Wheels! 

 

MAR 24 FRI

The Tin Pan

Richmond, VA

 

APR 7 FRI

White Horse Black Mountain

Black Mountain, NC

 


APR 9 SUN

Muddy Creek Music Hall

Winston-Salem, NC



APR 23 SUN

The Black Sheep Inn

La Pêche, Canada

 

APR 29 SAT

Eddie's Attic

Decatur, GA

opening for The Steel Wheels! 

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

 

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Byron and Johnny

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Mighty Be Our Powers

This International Women's Day, I remember the summer of 1990, when I circled the glassy doldrums off the west coast of Africa for two months on a tank landing ship, the USS Sumter LST-1181. The Marines on board shined their canteens out of boredom. We threw our garbage in the ocean and it sat around and stank for days.

 

At the 60-day mark, the USS Milwaukee shot a line over and resupplied us with food, fuel, and- due to an arcane Naval policy- enough cases of Old Milwaukee for every man on board to have a single can of cold American beer. Sailors lined the railings to catch a glimpse of any female on board the supply ship, life-jacketed and boondocked, sexless as a pylon from 30 yards away, and yet as powerfully feminine as any bare-breasted enchantress on the cliffs of the Sirenuse.

 

After the ships parted ways, sober men sold their beers to the highest bidder for the ship-wide party. A drum kit appeared on the fourth deck and we jammed bad Zeppelin covers with half-remembered lyrics. Married men were allowed into the cryptic radio room for a single crackling phone call home to their wives.

 

Soon after, the order finally came to do what we were there to do. We helicoptered Americans out of Monrovia, Liberia. We left over two hundred Marines behind to protect Americans and American interests in the city named after our fifth president.

 

We never left the ship and the ship never docked. By the time we scrubbed off in Puerto Rico, we had been on the water for a month longer than Columbus on that first transatlantic voyage.

 

I wondered for years what really happened in the city that I only saw from the water, as unknowable then as all the women aboard the USS Milwaukee. About twenty years later I picked up this book and found out. The twenty-year-old me looking for the curve of a hip in a faraway pair of dungarees knew nothing about the power of women. Here is the grisly and breathtaking true story of how a coalition of Christian and Muslim women ended the Liberian Civil War with faith, cunning, and womanhood as their only weapons.

 

Mighty Be Our Powers

Leymah Gbowee

Winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B005ENJZL8/

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WORD FROM THE BYRD: MONDAY REPORT #4

We're finished with the Merlefest on the Road tour. We'll miss Mark Bumgarner and Locust Honey String Band, especially around the time they joined us for a song at the end of every night. We'll miss Steve Johnson carrying gear, selling our records, and generally acting like he's not the artistic director of the largest American roots festival in the world. The Official Monday Report instagram photo shows the wild after-party. 

This week we're going to Minnesota and Iowa with Charlie Muench of the Stray Birds on bass. We're going to play with Johnny Hermanson in Minneapolis and there may be a Matt Fockler sighting. We're videotaping a special show in Sioux Falls as well. Here are the dates: 

MAR 9 THU
The Aster
Minneapolis, MN

MAR 10 FRI
The Jackson Center for the Arts
Jackson, MN

MAR 11 SAT
BARC Auditorium
Windom, MN

MAR 12 SUN
Byron's Bar
Pomeroy, IA

If you have a question like "when are you coming to Poughkeepsie?!" please check the entire schedule at http://www.jonathanbyrd.com/schedule/

************

FOOD:

I know I don't look like it, but I really do enjoy food. The backstage party usually consists of whatever we can find to eat after the show. We plan our routes by coffeehouses, scoop shops, Vietnamese restaurants, and taco trucks. Starting this week, I'm going to give you recommendations for new eateries we've found and old standbys that we look forward to when we travel. 

On Thursday in Asheville, we ate dinner right in the venue, Isis Music Hall. I had a pickled beet salad and cream of lima bean and ham soup. Everybody in our crew said the food was great. That's rare for a restaurant, much less a music venue. Recommended. 

Chloe from Locust Honey went to school in Johnson City. When I said "Scratch Brick Oven" on Friday, she smiled. It's hard to find good food in Johnson City. Scratch Brick Oven is a pizza place. As the website says, "Not For Everyone." No one behind the counter is over 25. There's a turntable and a record collection- customers are encouraged to change the record often. I put on the Everly Brothers' Greatest Hits. To order, you fill out an order card. There are a couple of unique categories: "Trust" which means "Whatever. Make me something, dude." There's "Limited Trust," in which you mark off things you definitely don't want. "Kind of whatever, but no artichokes or fish products, dude." They also have a 10" gluten free crust. I ordered two gluten free Trusts and ate all but two slices, which of course I ate after the show. There were apple slices, peppers, some different cheeses, and each came with a handful of dried red chilies that packed some serious heat. Johnny and I also had a Sioux City Sarsaparilla (which Sam Elliott ordered in The Big Lebowski). 

Johnny and I woke up Saturday on a little farm in Erwin, Tennessee and boiled a few eggs for the road. We had to be at a radio interview in Greensboro, North Carolina before noon. By the time we got out of the radio spot, we were starving. I suggested Crafted - The Art of the Taco. Steve Johnson agreed. The tacos are definitely NOT authentic. There's the "Big Truck," with pulled pork, mac n’ cheese, fried onions, scallions and bacon BBQ sauce. That's two porks on one taco in case you missed it. I had the Messenger- chorizo, scrambled egg, potatoes, ranchero,
guacamole and cheese. For a dollar, you can get a side of duck-fat-braised collard greens. Might as well get two. They also take their craft beer seriously at Crafted. (North Carolina sells over a billion dollars worth of craft beer a year. There are nearly 200 microbreweries in the state.)

Sunday night, again we ate at the venue. We played at Motorco, right next to their sister kitchen Parts and Labor. There were samosas and an edamame salad in the dressing room when we got there. I ordered a shaved brussels sprout salad and pork tenderloin which came on a pillow of greens with a dollop of house made apple sauce. Then I walked across the street to Cocoa Cinnamon for an espresso that tasted like walnuts and orange peels. What the heck: I walked a few blocks up to The Parlour and texted Johnny and Steve to meet me for ice cream. I got two scoops: lavender and rosewater. There's a lot to love about the new Durham. 

************

My friend Eva HD is helping me get a book of my poetry together. Eva is a bartender, a tall ship sailor, a prize-winning poet, and bakes one hell of an apple pie. I'm listening to whatever she says. She says this one is good:

I Sing Best When I Feel Anointed 

God's not one to think aloud.
Sometimes she takes five minutes.
Genius is the patience
to outwit a dull moment.

I trust the unseen Creator
in your unfolding squash blossom,
what you feel, think, and know,
your leg, spine, and tongue.

I trust my holy instinct
as time steals my vision.
I hold you away so I can see you
and then close to see inside you.

Don't try to be who you were
before babies, before forties.
You are ancient as the ocean.
Pin me down and drown me.

All I've learned is who you are
is more than what you know.
The will to love survives
any one love and even life.

Every child is born a stranger.
Every prophet becomes a danger.
Even conversation is a competition
to know the world from all eyes.

Government is a bully.
The path is a tyrant.
Leave a trail for me
in your wilderness.

I'll drink your experiment.
I'll take your rejection.
I'll chant your beauty,
our enthusiasm alone a triumph.

When you are boring to young men,
you will be my oracle,
your every word an inspiration,
a revolution in God's mind.

************

Thanks for reading. Come see us on the road. Your fan, 

JByrd

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Word from the Byrd: Monday Report #3

We're having fun on the "Merlefest on the Road" tour. Everyone is honored to represent the festival and, by extension, the legacy of Doc and Merle Watson.

 

When the tour started, Chloe in Locust Honey was sick. The next day their bass player John was sick too. Johnny and I avoided the green room all together. It was hard to make friends.

 

John played bass with two acts a night anyway. He made our set a hundred percent better. A lady said to me after the show, "I'm a nurse and your bass player does not look good." Meredith from Locust Honey somehow managed to avoid the plague.

 

Last night, Mark Bumgarner and I started a new song in the green room. Chloe and Meredith joined us on stage to sing backup complete with Motown choreography.

 

We made friends. We have four more shows and they're getting better.

 

***Merlefest on the Road***

 

MAR 2 THU

Isis Music Hall

Asheville NC

 

MAR 3 FRI

Down Home

Johnson City TN

 

MAR 4 SAT

Van Dyke Performance Space

Greensboro NC

 

MAR 5 SUN

Motorco

Durham NC

 

*************

 

The week after, we're going out to Minnesota and Iowa with Charlie Muench of the Stray Birds on bass. Johnny Hermanson of Storyhill will join us in Minneapolis for a powerful double bill.

 

MAR 9 THU

The Aster

Minneapolis, MN

with Johnny Hermanson



MAR 10 FRI

The Jackson Center for the Arts

Jackson, MN



MAR 11 SAT

BARC Auditorium

Windom, MN


MAR 12 SUN

Byron's Bar

Pomeroy, IA

 

And then later this month a very special show with the McTell Brothers and two-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year Mark Schatz. The Tin Pan has good food, great sound, and a drink named after one of our songs.

MAR 24 FRI

The Tin Pan

Richmond, VA

 

************

 

Faith

 

I come every morning when it is still dark to talk to God. I kneel and I listen.

 

It is like I have come to bed with my clothes on.

 

It is like I have a hammer with which knit a sweater.

 

I have forgotten some part of the order.

 

I look up and God flashes by like a face from the window of a train. I shout I love you and God waves.

 

************

 

The offficial Monday Report instagram photo is what happens when Johnny Waken met wildlife biologist and singer/songwriter Jay Clark in Knoxville TN. This is how we get a head in show business. 

 

Your fan,  

 

JByrd

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Word from the Byrd: Monday Report #2

The Hope Star

 

I packed the car at 3:30am on Wednesday morning. Kissed my wife and son in their beds. Picked up Johnny at home. Georgia Brown barking her head off at the living room window.

 

Johnny was sick. Somehow we got all our gear and a hand truck in a Chevy Impala. The hand truck would prove essential. I'll get to that.

 

Four hours later, we got morning coffee in Black Mountain. Then we drove. We got lunch in Nashville and drove. We got ice cream with an old friend in St. Louis, went for dinner, and then drove.

 

At 10pm we arrived at the Sheraton in Kansas City. Room on the fortieth floor. Car in the parking deck. First win for the hand truck.

 

We were in town for Folk Alliance International, an annual meeting of most of the people I've ever fallen in love with. I heard there were three thousand DJs, festival managers, venue bookers, managers, agents, producers, and musicians.

 

What makes the Folk Alliance different from the music business?  The artists aren't the only ones in it for love. Most folk DJs are volunteers, as are many of the festival presenters and house concert hosts. There's not a lot of money in folk music- surprise. Maybe you've heard the fable of the boss taking eleven of the dozen cookies on the lunchroom table and then saying to the two employees, "Keep an eye on him. He'll take your cookie." Folkies get together and bake more cookies. 

 

My brain is the consistency of burnt toast right now. We've been running through hallways with gear, taking business cards, hugging strangers, getting our minds blown with talent, and staying up into the wee hours for five days. I feel like that guy in The Martian at the end of the movie. Take me home. But we're not going home. We're going to Nashville. I'll get to that.

 

Our bellhop's name was Domenico. "I'm a singer too. Country and patriotic songs." He had an elusive accent. He was very interested in our careers. I handed him a bill for his service. "You can hear me on YouTube. I wrote a song for the Kansas City Royals the year they won the World Series. It's called Time to Win It All!" You better believe I looked that up. I'll get to that.

 

I did about twenty minutes of yoga. All truck stops should rip out the television in the lounge and put a basket full of yoga mats by the door. Print the mats with kitschy ballcap sayings like "my wife left with my dog and I miss him." Rebel flag yoga blankets made in Mexico. Keep it real.

 

Johnny stayed in the room and slept off his bug. He's never been to a Folk Alliance conference. I'd made too many friends to go to bed. I showered and walked out to the elevator. I looked out from the fortieth floor over the lights of Kansas City washing out on the distant horizon into a dark and rolling prairie. The twelve story Western Auto building below us. The light blue light of the swimming pool. The Gun Show billboard.

 

The conference was actually happening across the street in the Westin Hotel. There is a walking bridge called The Link from the mezzanine of the Sheraton over to the Westin. It was about a half mile walk for us every time we went over to the Westin, and every time we went back to our room.

 

Floors 5, 6, and 7 were reserved for music. Every afternoon and evening until the wee hours, people played music in hotel rooms. Some hosts rented chairs and hid beds behind the curtains. Some just left the beds to use as lounges for listeners. Some had PA systems. Posters for artists lined the walls, hung with blue painter's tape. People hung up fairy lights and put out bowls of candy. Pots of coffee. Buckets of beer. The Wisconsin Room had free cheese.

 

I walked across The Link and took the elevator to the fifth floor. We had arrived too late to pick up our conference badges and I was stopped immediately by security. Folk security, as you can imagine, is pretty tight. They found me a temporary wristband and gave me a hug.

 

I walked all the way through the fifth floor hugging anyone I knew. I walked the stairs to the sixth floor and did the same. Then the seventh floor. Then my heart was ready to go to bed. I walked The Link back home for the night. 

 

Thursday morning, Johnny and I went to registration and got our official Folk Alliance International badges and totebags, each of which included a pocket copy of the US Constitution. I spent the day introducing Johnny to all my friends and people I'd worked with for years. Our good friend Andrew Pressman came from Austin, Texas and made our conference extra special by playing bass with us all week.

 

Late Thursday night we played barely four songs in a stuffy hotel room for eight people. Friday night we played a special Official Showcase in a large, sleek dining room on the 20th floor overlooking Kansas City. We followed Tift Merritt and had to carry our gear through hundreds of people to get to the stage, which was sponsored by Merlefest and Yep Roc. Steve Johnson, who books Merlefest- the largest Americana festival in the world- carried my amp and introduced us. See above re: Folk Alliance vs. rest of the music business. Saturday and Saturday night, we played the little hotel room again, but this time you couldn't get in the door. 

 

Getting off the elevator to go to bed each night, I looked out that fortieth floor window as if the lights of Kansas City were a galaxy. More and more I got the feeling we were on some kind of opposite to the Death Star. We were on the Hope Star, hurtling through the heartland of space on a mission to destroy cynicism with song.

 

I'll tell you the best part of our experience after these tour dates. Tonight we're in Nashville- let's just call it Day 6 of Folk Alliance- with Jon Byrd and Wild Ponies. Then a great house concert in Knoxville to get us home. 

 

FEB 20 - The Family Wash - Nashville TN

 

Feb 21 - The Betsy House - Rockford TN - email jayclarkmusic@comcast.net for details and RSVP

 

***Merlefest on the Road tour, sponsored by Window World. We'll be joined by Locust Honey String Band and Mark Bumgarner.*** 

 

FEB 23 THU
The Floyd Country Store
Floyd, VA


FEB 24 FRI
Gaston County Museum of Art & History
Dallas, NC


FEB 25 SAT
Yadkin Arts Council and Cultural Center
Yadkinville, NC

 

FEB 26 SUN
Hendershot's Coffee
Athens, GA

 

MAR 2 THU
Isis Music Hall
Asheville, NC

 

MAR 3 FRI
The Down Home
Johnson City, TN

 

MAR 4 SAT
Van Dyke Performance Space
Greensboro, NC

 

MAR 5 SUN
Motorco
Durham, NC

 

There has been a lot of publicity around this tour. Please buy your tickets in advance wherever possible.

 

Now: the best part of Folk Alliance every night was putting our gear away and walking the half mile back to wander the music floors. The Oklahoma Room became our go-to. They are a family. They listen to each other. They promote each other. They play in each other's bands.

 

John Fullbright is one of the Oklahoma standouts. I told him we were coming to Tulsa in May and he opened his house to us. I hear him every chance I get. Check out "When You're Here."

 

Lauren Barth and Jesse Aycock sing together like Oklahoma went to California and came back. Graham and Emmylou. Gillian and Dave. They start singing and I can't hear the words for how beautiful their voices are. Here they are in a hotel room breaking your heart. "First and Last."

 

We did get out of the Oklahoma Room and wander the halls to great success. Tony Furtado is a master picker and a master songwriter. We played a show with him in Athens Georgia last year and he gave me his latest record The Bell. It is one of my favorite records I got last year. I have to steal it back out of my wife's car constantly. Watching him live is the thing though. Master craftsman. Boilermaker. He cruised Folk Alliance with an instrument on his back and two more in his hands. Check out Broken Bell on the cello-banjo. 

 

I've known Joe Newberry since the nineties when I was sitting in Old-Time picking circles around Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Joe takes clawhammer banjo to a high art and sings like a country gentleman. Lately he's teamed up with April Verch, which is bold. April is a tornado with tap shoes and a fiddle. Joe is one of a few pickers who could stand beside her and own his little piece of the stage. Watch this all the way to the end and tell me how many brains she has. 

 

We met Beppe Gambetta in an elevator. He was wearing Italian handmade red leather sneakers. We chatted and parted ways. I said "Johnny, you have to see that guy play." You do too. Fandango per la Bionda 

 

One of the biggest surprises for me was Bill and the Belles from Johnson City. Three-part harmony on a radio show in 1930. A party band for Jay Gatsby. They have many secret weapons, one of which is Kris's right hand on the guitar. "Work Don't Bother Me

 

In 2007, I was a judge for the New Folk Competition at the Kerrville Folk Festival. There was this sixteen-year-old kid who sang an ode to the demoted planet called "Poor Poor Pluto" and a second song called "Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner." Everybody was wondering How does this kid even know who Porter Wagoner was? He had to fly home and go to school, and then fly back for the winners' concert. Anthony da Costa has come a long way in a short time. I don't know  what to call his music now. He's one of the more fascinating guitarists I know. He plays side for Jimmy Lafave. Aoife O'Donovan. Sarah Jarosz. Here he is singing his own "Feet on the Dashboard

 

And last but not least, our bellhop Domenico Nguyen. I honestly enjoyed this video as much as anything I saw this week.  Here's "Time to Win it All," written for the Kansas City Royals the year they won the World Series. With fans like Domenico it's easy to see why they won. Talk about destroying cynicism with song!

 

If you really enjoyed that, you should check out the "Worlds of Fun theme song

 

Thanks for reading. Check out our official instagram Monday Report photo. The music spilled out into the lobby, the elevators, and even The Link. That's me in The Link at 3am listening to my friend Matt Stone as he lays down the beautiful truth.

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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Lunacy

A poem for Valentines Day. Love is crazy. 

 

Lunacy

 

When I first saw her

It was as if I had never seen the moon

so bright the night was day

I worshipped her

I charted her phases 

we made children in the night

 

But something happened

She lost her light

She became half as bright

And half again

Until I could not see her

Even in broad daylight

 

I looked around at all I had to offer her

And this is the shame of all men

I said isn't this good enough

Shine for me

You should shine for me

 

She began to shine again

I felt so powerful

I could control her

It was a simple matter of my gravity

But this shining was different

More beautiful than before

Until I was terrified she would leave me

 

She danced and the ground shook

She cried and bloomed oceans at her feet

She laughed and birds flew out of her mouth

Forests rose from the dust and even Death

That old nighthawk

Could not mock her

 

It was then I realized my mistake

She was not the moon

I was the moon

She was the Earth

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Word from The Byrd: Monday Report #1

My weekend starts on Monday. I'm starting a regular blog called Word From the Byrd: Monday Report. The blog will be published on my website, link-shared on facebook and twitter, and it will be accompanied by the Official Monday Report Photo on instagram @jonathanbyrd. Maybe I wrote a song. Maybe I heard a great song. Maybe I found the greatest ice cream in the world in Columbus, Ohio. (I did. Read on.) Either way, I always feel grateful after a week of meeting and singing for you amazing generous people. I hope you'll accept in return my gift of a poet's field report. 

This week we had three shows with bass player, singer, and songwriter Charlie Muench from The Stray Birds. Charlie is six foot six and sings like an angel. His birthday was Friday! We have a fun picture over on my instagram account of Charlie in bed in the morning with a cupcake. 

Johnny and I drove to Pittsburgh on Thursday through the East River Mountain Tunnel, one of only two tunnels in the US to link two states. This time we entered the tunnel from green Virginia and reappeared in snowy West Virginia. I've experienced this weather phenomenon around East River Mountain three times. 

We picked Charlie up at the Pittsburgh airport and drove down to the South Side. The snow was blowing sideways. We ate taco at Doce Taqueria and watched it snow. 

By showtime there were fifteen people in the club. They sang along. They laughed. None of the left early and half of them joined us back at Doce for tacos after the show. We made $50 at the door, which means after travel and tacos we spent a few hundred dollars to rehearse. This is show business and we love it. 

The Purple Fiddle is a funky homemade café in Thomas, West Virginia. My friend Trevor Reichmann was in town and I talked him into playing a song during the break. Check out Dollar Store Bible on YouTube. The video looks like it's going to be terrible for about twenty seconds. Then this strange beautiful song makes the video irrelevant. 

Trevor lives out in the Big Bend area of West Texas. His beautiful earth-built dome was featured on HGTV's Mighty Tiny Houses. You can stay in it, too. Check it out on airbnb

Saturday we got up and out early because I wanted ice cream. Not just any ice cream. Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream. If you haven't heard of Jeni's and you like ice cream, I'm sorry. I'm sorry because you're going to try Jeni's and then all other ice cream will leave you unsatisfied forever more. It's still worth it. Born in Columbus, there are now scoop shops in Cleveland, Nashville, Chicago, Atlanta, Charleston, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. You can order online as well. 

We arrived in Columbus at 3pm and went to Jeni's twice. I highly recommend the wildberry lavender and a new flavor, juniper lemon curd. I took two friends to Jeni's once on the way to Chicago. As we walked down the street eating it, one said "You said this was the best ice cream in the world and I was prepared to be disappointed. But I think you're right. This really is the best ice cream in the world." 

Ben Bedford opened the show for us in Columbus. Ben is a songwriter's songwriter. Check out this gorgeous rendition of the The Pilot and the Flying Machine

By the time we drove home on Sunday, it was 80 degrees. About thirty minutes from home on a four lane highway, I accidentally cut someone off. She rode by me with her middle finger out the window. I smiled and waved. Her children looked up at me from the backseat, and then they all laughed and gave me the finger too. I smiled and waved at them. Later, I passed them again and I could hear the children say with glee, "There he goes again!" 

It's so good to be home. I picked Rowan up early from school and we went out to pick up a load of firewood from my mother's house. They had cut down an old white oak that had begun to rot. I could see two tall young hickories behind the stump that were pretty happy for their chance in the sun. They'll be beautiful someday. 

This week, we're headed to Kansas City for the International Folk Alliance conference. The theme this year is "FORBIDDEN FOLK, Celebrating Activism in Art: An exploration of the role of music in social, political, labor and environmental movements." It's a pretty good year for that. 

On the way home, we're playing a couple of shows in Tennessee:

FEB 20 - The Family Wash - Nashville TN - with our friends The Wild Ponies

Feb 21 - The Betsy House - Rockford TN - email jayclarkmusic@comcast.net for details and RSVP

Then we'll start this very promising tour with Mark Bumgarner and the Locust Honey String Band, sponsored by Merlefest, in fact called the "Merlefest on the Road" tour

FEB 23 THU
The Floyd Country Store
Floyd, VA


FEB 24 FRI
Gaston County Museum of Art & History
Dallas, NC


FEB 25 SAT
Yadkin Arts Council and Cultural Center
Yadkinville, NC

FEB 26 SUN
Hendershot's Coffee
Athens, GA

MAR 2 THU
Isis Music Hall
Asheville, NC

MAR 3 FRI
The Down Home
Johnson City, TN

MAR 4 SAT
Van Dyke Performance Space
Greensboro, NC

MAR 5 SUN
Motorco
Durham, NC

There will be a lot of publicity around this tour. Please buy your tickets in advance wherever possible.

I'll end this with a poem. I've been cowriting with God lately. Here's our latest:

-Sweetness-

I said to God, Are you real?

God said, Does it matter whether I am real? 

I said, Well I don't want to feel like a fool. 

God said, Do you know the story of the fox and the sour grapes?

I said, Of course.

God said, Does it matter whether the grapes are real?

************

Thanks for reading. See you next Monday. Your fan, 

JByrd

____________________________________

To listen and download music anytime, check out my bandcamp page: https://jonathanbyrd.bandcamp.com. iTunes, Pandora, and other are great but there are things on bandcamp that aren't anywhere else. And you can download full-quality WAVs and even FLAC files. 

There are videos and lessons on my youtube page: https://www.youtube.com/user/jonathanbyrd

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Soft Tissues

I heard they found the tail of a dinosaur

preserved in amber for ninety-nine million years,

sold as jewelry in a market in Myanmar.

 

Mosques were occupied by soldiers,

used as sites for rape or burned down.

Children were slaughtered with knives.

 

There were feathers like the chest feathers of a robin,

chestnut brown above and paler white beneath,

signaling from the Cretaceous like a frightened doe.

 

Sanctions have eased. The economy is developing well.

The country is rich in jade and gems, oil, and natural gas.

It is the largest producer of methamphetamine in the world.

 

The skin and muscle were reduced to a thin film of carbon

like a pencil mark on a climate map curving upward.

Time is not kind to the soft tissues.

 

Drift down the Irrawaddy River in an old river steamer.

Enjoy the beach on the Bay of Bengal.

It's the dawn of a more democratic era.

 

We can see just how degraded the material is.

There is no way to bring it back to life.

A fossil is just an impurity to a jeweler.

 

Christians and Muslims cannot join the Army.

That privilege is reserved for Buddhists.

It is remarkable how things change over time.

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Feliz Ano Novo

Happy New Year. Some of you are pregnant, though you may not know it yet. Some of you are hungover- I will type very quietly.

I don’t drink but I do have fun. My friends and I did a lot of research last night. For example, we discovered that everything sounds fantastic when you say it in Portuguese. Also: even a gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free cake is awesome at 4am.

There are very few things I am certain about. I envy those rare people who seem to be born knowing who they are and what they want out of life. When an option comes along, they don’t have to weigh it. They’re not even reading this.

Certainty comes in flavors. Inner certainty is an attractive quality that draws us like gravity to those who have it. Outer certainty is a gassy planet that orbits around in a desolate vacuum. For instance, pick an evangelist. Any evangelist. Don’t tell me which one it is. Okay. I’ve got it. It’s all of them. I know. Amazing, right?

Somewhere in between “this religion works for me” and “you have to do this or I’ll kill all of you” there’s a chance to admit we don’t know. Or, as a friend’s rabbi once put it, “You have such good questions. Why trade them for answers?”

I’m beginning to think the universe doesn’t have any secrets. God goes on blabbing for eternity about how it works and we’re like LALALALALAAA I CAN’T HEAR YOU. We’re stuck in this weird, very short transition where we feel separate from everything else. Before we were born, everything we are made of was eternal and harmonious. When we die, it all goes back to eternal harmony. For this tiny blip of time in between, we run around with our hair on fire and fight or find a way to work with all the other panicked beings in the same predicament.

And we love it! Our primary goal in life is to bring other beings onto this crazy ride. Then we lie to them. We say things like, “Anybody can be the presiden-“ Okay, maybe that one is true. But we totally make stuff up! Let’s see- virgins having babies, people coming back from the dead, humans coming from another planet- you name it. It seems to be a lot harder for us to talk about reality.

Reality is a two-bedroom farmhouse in North Dakota. You gotta make your own fun. Maybe that’s why we make up all these stories. I’m not certain. They do seem to get us through to the non-fiction parts of the holy word.

“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” -Jesus

“What we think, we become.” -Buddha

“The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.” -Muhammad

“Art is making something out of nothing and selling it.” -Zappa

Only nothing is not nothing. Or, as Willie Nelson said, “Still is still moving to me.” My job is to observe very small, quiet, queer things, take copious notes, edit the notes down to a digestible essay, and report back to you. That’s one thing I’m certain of.

Also, the Portuguese thing. You gotta try it. Let’s just do one. Okay how about “crackers are nice.” Now put that into google translate and hit the audio. Whew. Is it getting hot in here?

Have a great year. If you don’t like your reality, make something up. It’s worked for eons. Good luck with the baby.

Seu fã,

JByrd

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Bringin' It

Songs are everywhere. We're bringin em to Fayetteville Arkansas and Pittsburg KS this weekend. Nashville on the 7th. Charlotte on the 9th. Johnson City on the 10th. And we're haulin em to this guy in Texas later in September.

 

Thursday and Friday

Fayetteville Roots Festival

Fayetteville, AR

 

Saturday

Lakewood Concerts

Pittsburg, KS

 

Sep 7th

The Bluebird Cafe

Nashville TN

W/ Will Kimbrough, Kris Hughes, and Tommy Womack

 

Sep 9

Charlotte Folk Society

Great Aunt Stella Center

http://www.folksociety.org

 

Sep 10

The Willow Tree Coffeehouse and Music Room

Johnson City, TN

 

SEP 21 WED

The Blue Door

Oklahoma City, OK

 

SEP 22 THU

Live Oak Music Hall And & Lounge

Fort Worth, TX

 

SEP 23 FRI

McGonigel's Mucky Duck

Houston, TX

 

SEP 24 SAT

The Rock Room Concerts

Austin, TX

 

SEP 25 SUN

Gruene Hall

New Braunfels, TX

 

Thanks to Robert Anderson for the picture (and a new fan)

 

Your fan,

JByrd

image.jpg

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The Tail-Eating Head of North Carolina Politics

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The Tail-Eating Head of North Carolina Politics

I don't care if everybody in the world is suddenly paying attention to politics in North Carolina. What I care about is if North Carolinians are paying attention. If it's finally caught your eye, then keep looking.

Look at how they've blocked health care access for the poorest people in the state. Follow the dismantling of environmental protections for our renowned natural beauty. Inspect their fingerprints on the ruins of our public education system.

They're not even conservatives. Conservatives believe in the power of individuals and local governments to control their own destiny. These are interventionists of the highest degree. Worse, they're obscurantists, using the misplaced fear and anger of their constituency to take us back to the same fictional history as the presidential candidate whom they endorse, when America was somehow greater than now. Was that 1970- the year I was born- when it was still illegal in North Carolina for couples of different colors to marry each other? Was that the great time? Or was it when thousands of our men and women died or came home amputated from their families and drug addicted from unjustified wars? Or was it when polio was so rampant that even the president was crippled by it?

What's so scary about the future, North Carolina? It's much less frightening than the past. Mayberry was black and white. The modern world is in a rainbow of colors.

Because it's already the future.

Welcome to it.

In 1988, I was a country bumpkin living in a log cabin in the woods of western Orange County. A girlfriend of mine took me to a club in Durham called The Power Company for the Miss North Carolina drag competition. I came home thinking 1) it takes a lot of courage to be different and 2) there's a place for everybody. Now I'm thinking, do we no longer have the courage to accept our own children? Do all the different people have to leave North Carolina to find their place?

When you alienate people you alienate the people who love them. You alienate the people who believe in love. And that's a lot of people. I still believe that's most North Carolinians.

If we don't start moving forward, we're going to lose business. We're going to lose tourism. We're going to lose respect. We're going to lose our real heritage as one of the most tolerant and forward-thinking states in the south. Eight thousand North Carolina soldiers fought for the Union.
We're not alone. It's happening in Georgia. Missouri. All over the south this thinking is rearing its tail-eating head. Are we going to defend some mythical southern honor to the ugly end again? Remember how that ended last time?

South Carolina took down the rebel flag. It's time for North Carolina to raise the rainbow.

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report from Hogtown base camp

Toronto is shabby. Disheveled. Polite. Unassuming.

Did you have an unmarried uncle? His house smelled a little like a tacklebox. He had these weird books that you couldn't stop reading. He had a record player and you loved that Boston album but only at his place. He never told you what to do or judged you. You could put your drink down anywhere.

That's my Toronto. There's a shiny side but it's like when your mom went over and planted some flowers to brighten things up. Or when he wore that suit for your sister's wedding. You knew it wasn't real. It was a concession he made to being in a family of major cities. Then he went home and read his weird books and fell asleep with half a sandwich on the nightstand.

Today we had an Ethiopian feast under a television. The police dragged a woman out of a car in the Credit River. Outside on the sidewalk a man stood for an hour and asked for change. A graffitist tagged our doorway while we were rehearsing. Little coffeehouses and green grocers dealt in cash only. A crossing guard nodded his head and listened to Rush on his little radio bungeed to a light pole. Snowflakes dusted down so few and light that we questioned whether we had really seen them. All continents of people spoke languages I didn't recognize. Above us the sky parted and gold poured down on Hogtown. Papers blew across the street.

I'm going to read one of these weird books. See y'all this week. come as you are. Your fan, JByrd

MAR 22 TUE
The Temple Lounge At Donaleighs
Barrie, ON
https://www.facebook.com/events/570562996440112/

MAR 23 WED
The Cameron House back room
Toronto, ON
http://www.thecameron.com/

MAR 24 THU
Moonshine Cafe
Oakville, ON
http://www.themoonshinecafe.com

MAR 25 FRI
Grafton Town Hall
Alnwick/Haldimand, ON
https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/community-concert-with-jonathan-tickets-21441965496

MAR 26 SAT
House Concert
Sudbury, ON
housecon.sud@gmail.com

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Happy New Year

Happy New Year. My son turns six in a few weeks. We’ve been talking a lot about planets and orbits lately.
On New Year’s Day he asked me, “Does the world have an end?”
“You mean the planet Earth.”
“Yes.”
“Yes. The planet Earth will have an end someday.”
“Is there an end to space?”
“That’s a big question. Some people think there is. Some people think there’s not.”
“What do you think?”
“I tend to believe that space has no end.”
“Me too. Otherwise, what would take over from there?”
“Yes. What would take over from there.”
“Dad.”
“Yes?”
“My babysitter says infinity is the last number.”
“Well she’s pretty smart. I don’t think of infinity as a number.”
“What?! Infinity’s not a number?”
“To me it’s an idea for something we can’t imagine. Like God. God is infinite. You can’t imagine God.”
“Right. Because there’s just more and more and more of it.”
“Right.”
“Dad. Can I have a cookie?”
“Finish your cauliflower.”
Then we looked at pictures of Sputnik, which was basically a metal beach ball that we threw really hard. It worked and Sputnik orbited the Earth for three months before it fell and burned up. Then we did it again but we got a stray dog from the streets of Moscow and put her inside it. Laika was her name. She overheated and died within a few hours of orbiting Earth and was cremated by reentry five months later.
Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky took Laika home to play with his children before the launch. "I wanted to do something nice for her: She had so little time left to live."
Which is the greater human achievement: doing something nice for a stray dog or launching the world’s first artificial satellite? Maybe there’s not one right answer for that, but it’s worth thinking about. Like infinity. Or God.
What I learned this year, and every year: Don’t be in such a hurry to eat the cookie. Learn to enjoy the cauliflower. Infinity is a long time.


****************


We’re orbiting the southeast in the Byrdmobile 3000 for a few more dates in January.


Thursday, January 7, 7:30pm
The Landings Club
1 Cottonwood Lane
Savannah, GA
www.goslinproductions.com
The Landings Club is a clubhouse in a large private community. My dad would call it “swanky.” The staff are outrageously friendly. The show is open to the public. Email hmgoslin@gmail.com for the details.


Friday, January 8, 8pm
The Crimson Moon
Dahlonega, GA
www.thecrimsonmoon.com


Saturday, January 9, 
The Parlour at Manns Chapel
Chapel Hill, NC
Benefit for Paul Ford
***SOULED OUT***


Sunday, January 10, 6pm
The Purple Onion
Saluda, NC
www.purpleonionsaluda.com


Friday, January 15, 8pm
White Horse Black Mountain
Black Mountain, NC
www.whitehorseblackmountain.com
We’ve never played here. We stopped in one day to look at it. The room is incredible. It’s one of the most naturally great sounding rooms I’ve ever been in. I would love to fill this show up and rock all your faces off in this Black Mountain temple of sound. If you are in the area, please spread the word. If you think you can help promote this event, get in touch info@jonathanbyrd.com and I’ll trade you a couple free tickets and a CD for your help. Thanks!


February 5-7
Blue Rock Songwriting Retreat
Blue Rock Studios
Wimberley, TX
http://bluerocktexas.com/calendar/66/157-Songwriter-Retreat/
Sign up at http://www.bluerocktexas.com/rsvp/ or email rsvp@bluerocktexas.com


Your fan,


JByrd

(artwork by Jan Burger of Paperhand Puppet Intervention)

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Denmark dates

Friday, February 13Global Copenhagen, Denmark http://www.globalcph.dk/

Saturday, February 14 Ebeltoft Kulturhus Ebeltoft, Denmark http://www.ebeltoftkulturhus.dk/

Sunday, February 15 Spillestedet Blokhus Pandrup, Denmark http://spillestedetblokhus.dk/forside.aspx

Wednesday, February 18th, 8pm Næstved Music and Culture School at the Fladsaa School Mogenstrup, Denmark

Friday, February 20 Stars Vordingborg, Denmark http://www.stars.dk/

Saturday, February 21 Hagges Music Pub Tonder, Denmark http://www.hagges.dk/news.php

Your fan,

JByrd

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