I’ve got opinions, like anybody. I’ve got anecdotal evidence to back them up. I take action with my vote and my dollar to affect changes I think will make my town, county, state, and country better places to live and work.
However, I generally don’t truck that stuff out in public anymore. I did once, and my online following increased dramatically. I thought I’d really struck gold.
I didn’t sell any more tickets. I didn’t sell any more albums. I didn’t become a better person. I just attracted a lot of people who wanted to validate their own opinions via some authority, even though my authority on anything but songwriting is probably imaginary.
Worst of all, for no good reason, I alienated some people who were friends and fans. They supported my career. They came to shows and had a good time with all those other fans who disagreed with them, and no one was the wiser. We all experienced the warmth of community and the beautiful catharsis of an artistic experience.
Sure, “Loneliness is poverty” is an opinion. “A revolution’s just a circle after all” is an opinion. If you’re pedantic enough, you could argue that I make political statements. “1984” is very political, but it’s also a perennial and masterful work of art. That’s a politic statement I can hang with (or hang for!) and a touchstone for any artistic commentary on our civilization-in-progress.
The most important thing to me is that you feel welcome at our shows. I want you to forget all the times somebody told you that you couldn’t sing or dance, or it wasn’t safe to feel things, and get you to sing, dance, and feel things. There are a couple of songs I don’t sing anymore, and if you’re a long-time fan of mine you probably know which songs I’m talking about. I’m not going to argue about it. They were well-written or at least bold artistic statements, but they were dividers. What we need, more than anything right now, is to feel connected in community and see the value in each other.
If you don’t like that, f- I mean um, let me know in the comments. ;)
The most important project on my plate right now is The Shake Sugaree Americana Residency. A couple of years ago, Johnny Waken and I were struggling. We had lost our band member and best friend to cancer. Our long-time agent retired. The entire idiom of dealing with or searching for an agent is summed up in this classic entertainment industry story:
Two entertainers were sitting at a bar, commiserating over the state of the industry and sharing road stories, when one of them received a phone call. She excused herself for a few minutes. When she came back, she looked terrible.
“What happened?” her friend asked.
“That was my agent. He says my husband called. He’s packed up the kids and left with everything we had. I guess I knew it would happen all along, with all my late nights and long road trips. We haven’t felt connected in years.”
Her friend shook his head in disbelief. He put his drink down and looked her in the eye. “Wow,” he said. “Your agent CALLED you?”
So Johnny and I were looking for another agent, and our last one set the bar pretty high. In the meantime, we weren’t working much. We didn’t know who we were. Was I a solo artist with a side guy? Were we a duo? Were we a trio missing our third member? When we did go out, we had the learn half of our material again.
I had thought about a residency for years, but never could figure out how to fit one around my tour schedule. That wasn’t really a problem anymore, and there happened to be a little roadhouse two miles from my house called The Kraken.
I checked the schedule, and it seemed like nothing regular happened on Wednesday nights. I drove down there. After a couple of missed connections, the owners agreed to try it. We could pass the bucket and, on a good night, we might get tipped out from the bar. Considering that it was a bar, we asked our friend Austin McCall to sit in with us on drums for a little extra oomph. I thought it would be a good way to rehearse with a PA and make a few dollars, but I had no idea what was about to happen.
The first few Wednesdays, my local fans came out and we had good attendance. I don’t know how long it took, but it didn’t take long. The bartender, James Peery, started setting up the couches and folding chairs theater-style facing the stage, to accommodate all the people who wanted to sit and take in the show. Soon other fans would show up early and help James in order to nab a good seat. The parking lot started running out of space on a regular basis and we had to announce the public policy for parking on the road so people wouldn’t get tickets. I thought for sure people would get tired of coming to a three-hour show every week, but that didn’t happen. Because there wasn’t a cover charge, people would just come in for a drink, discover us, and then come back every week thereafter.
Some months into The Shake Sugaree Americana Residency, the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources sent a film crew out to record a show. I watched them set up and thought, “We could do that every week. We could just put this on the internet.” I didn’t just want people to see the show, I wanted them to experience The Kraken. I want everyone to meet “the mayor of White Cross,” Paul Plummer, whose dad built the bar in 1973. I want you to meet Lisa Earle, our self-promoted pass-the-bucket lady who actually contacts me whenever she can’t be there to make sure someone is there to pass the bucket. I want you to meet James Peery, a talented musician in his own right, voted the best bartender in the whole county in our local entertainment paper, and a skilled auto mechanic and painter. I want to take you out to “the office,” an outdoor patio with a burn barrel where the smokers gather and tell stories, some of which are true.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve learned enough that I could work at a camera store, on a documentary film crew, or in public broadcasting- take your pick. We’ve spent thousands of dollars (some thanks to a generous donor!). I’ve added an hour to our setup and a half hour to our teardown, meaning our three-hour gig is now a nine or ten-hour day.
But we’re getting there. How can you help? You can watch. You can spread the word. You can tip the band online. Not only do you support the band and the broadcast, a percentage of what we makes goes to The Shake Sugaree Foundation, a non-profit entity that supports arts education for special needs students at the North Carolina School for the Deaf.
So far, the tips aren’t paying for the crew it takes to run the show. That’s okay for right now, but it’s not sustainable. We need viewers more than anything. With viewership comes the opportunity for sponsorships and other ways of feeding the crew. You can watch and share here, every Wednesday night from 7-10pm Eastern time:
(We find that YouTube has the best quality audio and video of all the services, and we offer a lot of ways to stream that are still good quality)
https://www.pscp.tv/jonathanbyrdmusic/ or on the Periscope app @jonathanbyrdmusic
Thank you! We hope to see you online. please let us know how it looks, how it sounds, and in general what your streaming experience is like. Send us requests and tip us whatever you think the show is worth. Thank you for helping us create this beautiful vision. We hope The Shake Sugaree Americana Residency can give you all the beauty it has given us.
We are also playing two of our favorite festivals ever in the coming weeks!
Aug 10 Sat
Oak Grove Folk Music Festival
Aug 15 Thurs
Ironwood Stage & Grill
Aug 16 & 17
Bear Creek Folk Festival
Grand Prairie, Alberta