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Clean

When I first got serious about songwriting, I wanted to write songs that would grow up, leave home, and go make friends in the world. When I hear someone singing one of my songs, it's bigger than any check in the mail. It's dream dollars. It goes right in my thanks account. 

Check out Allison Hopkins singing 'Clean.' What a voice. 

I'm spreading these songs far and wide. My plan is working! MWAHAHAHAHA!!!!!

 

AUG 18 FRI

Bear Creek Folk Festival

Grand Prairie, Alberta

 

AUG 21 MON

Needle Vinyl Tavern

Edmonton, Alberta

 

SEP 22 FRI

Deep Roots Music Festival

Wolfville, Nova Scotia

 

SEP 26 TUE

IBMA World of Bluegrass

Raleigh NC

 

SEP 29 FRI

Transylvania County Library Amphitheater

Brevard, NC

 

SEP 30 SAT

Windfield Farm Concerts

Pfafftown, NC

 

OCT 7 SAT

White Horse Black Mountain

Black Mountain, NC

 

Your fan, 

 

JByrd

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Aperture

The news this week has been disheartening but not surprising. I generally avoid the news but sometimes it's unavoidable. Then I lay awake at night thinking about it, which is why I avoid it in the first place.

aperture

when I lose focus

I picture a candleflame

burning in darkness

I know how light works

wherever my mind was made

there burned a candle

into the darkness

the light traveled forever

from the beginning

it seems dark out there

but if light is anywhere

light is everywhere

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

AUG 18 FRI

Bear Creek Folk Festival

Grand Prairie, Alberta

AUG 21 MON

Needle Vinyl Tavern

Edmonton, Alberta

SEP 22 FRI

Deep Roots Music Festival

Wolfville, Nova Scotia

SEP 26 TUE

IBMA World of Bluegrass

Raleigh NC

SEP 29 FRI

Transylvania County Library Amphitheater

Brevard, NC

SEP 30 SAT

Windfield Farm Concerts

Pfafftown, NC

OCT 7 SAT

White Horse Black Mountain

Black Mountain, NC

Your fan,  

JByrd

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Lipstick graffiti

I've seen a lot of hotel rooms. Sometimes it seems as if they haven't been cleaned very well. Lipstick graffiti on the bathroom mirror is a new one for me. It said, "REALIZE REALITY".  

I brushed my teeth and wondered what the story was. Who would leave this message? For whom? Why would the maid leave it untouched? 

I love a clean room, but I love a good story more. Sometimes not having all the facts helps. If you love a good story, come to one of these shows:

AUG 10 THU
Birthplace of Country Music
Bristol, TN

AUG 11 FRI
White Horse Black Mountain
Black Mountain, NC

AUG 12 SAT
Sertoma Amphitheatre at Bond Park
Cary, NC

AUG 13 SUN
Listen Speakeasy at Hush
Greensboro, NC

AUG 18 FRI
Bear Creek Folk Music Festival
Grande Prairie Alberta

Your fan,

JByrd

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You've Changed

    I'm getting very close to releasing my first book of poetry, which will be published by Mezcalita Press in Austin. 'You’ve Changed' is a collection of poetry that was born over seven years of working on a novel. I may work on the novel for another seven years or another seventy. 

    A song can be held in the mind whole as you work on it. Only so much can happen in a song, or at least only so much can be said about it. To be fair, each word carries more weight. Still, a novelist is obligated to come up with a minimum of forty thousand words that can grip the modern attention span for at least an afternoon. Paul McCartney’s ‘Blackbird’ has thirty-four words and is done before you can plunge your French press. 

    To maintain a sense of wonder and play in this highly disciplined writing environment, I created exercises for myself. I would remove time. I would introduce two characters from different books. I would tell a modern story using only words from Genesis. 

    Mostly they were weird little monsters I shared with my friends on the internet. But some were very moving. Some made me cry or laugh out loud. Some still do, even just now proofreading the latest version. Somehow my heart got into it. 

    That's the magic of art. I show up and do things every day. Suddenly one day my hand says something my heart has been trying to say for years. It feels as if a cog has moved inside me. As if my internal machinery has wheeled forward another inch in its specific mission, a mission that is maddeningly hidden from me inside the ink of a thousand hotel pens. 

    You’ve Changed is a seven-year journey of inches. I didn’t even know I was making a book and now it's almost done. I hope you get to hold it in your hands. 

 

You've Changed

 

We had breakfast with a friend

it made us late for an appointment

but we got some great photos

 

I was reading the side of that building on Queen Street

when I stepped out in front of the bus

In letters three stories high

it said You've Changed

 

I have.

 

it's no surprise that your taste buds choose your mood

The softness of light saltiness

The pleasure of discovering everyone

The rare salvation of satisfaction

 

Mary Oliver said on the radio

 

There is no nothingness

but there might be an end to consciousness

 

That's why I shouted Thank You

in the middle of Queen Street

as I was about to die

 

just in case

 

Thank You

 

It was hard but in the end

I loved life

most of all I loved my senses

I had breakfast with friends

I'm ready again

 

Thank You

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

We're playing this weekend in some of our favorite places

 AUG 3 THU
The Purple Fiddle
Thomas WV

AUG 4 FRI
Club Cafe
Pittsburgh PA

AUG 5 SAT
Oak Grove Folk Music Festival
Verona VA

and next weekend...

AUG 10 THU
Birthplace of Country Music
Bristol, TN

AUG 11 FRI
White Horse Black Mountain
Black Mountain, NC

AUG 12 SAT
Sertoma Amphitheatre at Bond Park
Cary, NC

AUG 13 SUN
Listen Speakeasy at Hush
Greensboro, NC

and the next weekend! 

AUG 18 FRI
Bear Creek Folk Music Festival
Grande Prairie Alberta

Your fan, 

JByrd

 

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Zombie

You've probably heard that Senator John McCain has been diagnosed with glioblastoma. When I heard, it brought up memories of Paul Ford's diagnosis, especially the part where Mr. McCain says he's looking forward to getting back to work. 

Glioblastoma is the meteor that killed the dinosaurs. It's a shark attack in super slo-mo. There's no amount of chemotherapy, radiation, or macrobiotic organic free-range cannabis oil that will stop it. I talked to one of the most famous cancer doctors in the country. He said stay close to home. 

I'm grateful to have been able to say goodbye to Paul while he was alive. On the other hand, he wanted to die long before he did. Mr. McCain will die like a warrior and that's the best we can hope for him. I'm thankful he was able to serve us for so long. 

I wrote this poem after Paul's first surgery.  

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

Zombie

I was sitting in the rain in my car
you were dying of brain cancer
or not dying of brain cancer
depending on whether the cat is alive
when we open the box 

Halloween night, I walked through the Field of Screams
a bloody bodiless leg lying in the path
a man with a banjo in the graveyard. 
a corpse in the tree that came to life
nothing was as scary as brain cancer 

it is a stage 3 cat
or maybe a stage 4 cat

the thing that nobody mentions is
the third option: the cat is not in there. 
It's because there is no third option. 
The cat cannot perform any of the more
famous tricks of quantum physics

a corpse cannot really come to life
not even on Halloween night

I turned the key and took you some soup
your head was stapled like Frankenstein
you hugged me and were not undead
maybe you were more alive than ever

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

"Maybe time running out is a gift. I'll work hard till the end of my shift." - Jason Isbell, If We Were Vampires

Hell yeah, Jason. We're doing our part: 

JUL 28 FRI
Durham Central Park
Durham NC

JUL 29 SAT
Saturdays In Sahaxapaw
Saxapahaw NC

AUG 3 THU
The Purple Fiddle
Thomas WV

AUG 4 FRI
Club Cafe
Pittsburgh PA

AUG 5 SAT
Oak Grove Folk Music Festival
Verona VA

AUG 10 THU
Birthplace of Country Music
Bristol, TN

AUG 11 FRI
White Horse Black Mountain
Black Mountain, NC

AUG 12 SAT
Sertoma Amphitheatre at Bond Park
Cary, NC

AUG 13 SUN
Listen Speakeasy at Hush
Greensboro, NC

AUG 18 FRI
Bear Creek Folk Music Festival
Grande Prairie Alberta 

Your fan, 

JByrd

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Happy birthday, kid.

When I tell audiences where I'm from every night, I tell them that the University of North Carolina is the only state university in the United States to have graduated a class in the 18th century. American audiences nod and look at each other, impressed. Some of them get out their phones to verify this amazing fact.

 

When I use that line in Europe, they laugh out loud. What a funny guy this folk singer is! So nice that he can make fun of his own country.

 

This tree is older than America. There are CLAMS older than America. Give us a break. We were all young and idealistic once. You grow up and one day you yell at your kids for doing all the dumb things you did. Pull your pants up. Get a haircut. Don't play with fireworks- you'll put an eye out.

 

Oh whatever. Go have fun. Be careful!

 

I love you.

 

Happy birthday, kid.

 

July 6-9

Northern Lights Festival Boréal

Sudbury Ontario

 

JUL 28 FRI

Durham Central Park

Durham NC

 

JUL 29 SAT

Saturdays in Saxapahaw

Saxapahaw NC


AUG 3 THU

The Purple Fiddle

Thomas WV


AUG 4 FRI

Club Cafe

Pittsburgh PA


AUG 5 SAT

Oak Grove Music Festival

Verona VA

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd 

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I Like Big Buds

Happy summer! We're excited to play the Northern Lights Festival Boréal in Sudbury, Ontario for the first time. Darcy Yates will join us on bass. Later on this month, we'll have a run through my home turf and then Johnny's.

 

July 6-9

Northern Lights Festival Boréal

Sudbury Ontario

 

JUL 28 FRI

Durham Central Park

Durham NC

 

JUL 29 SAT

Saturdays in Saxapahaw

Saxapahaw NC


AUG 3 THU

The Purple Fiddle

Thomas WV


AUG 4 FRI

Club Cafe

Pittsburgh PA


AUG 5 SAT

Oak Grove Music Festival

Verona VA

 

We're just back from our best U.K. tour yet. We'll be back in 2018. Thank you for your hospitality and enthusiasm. If you missed getting an album, you can order anything in the back catalog from Fish Records. Thanks to Peter Morgan of Fish Records for the work he's done on four successful tours. Thanks to the venues for opening your doors to a couple of cowboys.

 

I'm working on a song that needs sixteen simple lines. When it's finished, you could write it on a cocktail napkin. I've been working on it for about six months and I'm down to about one hundred and fifty possible lines on five pages and another twenty pages of notes. I offer this as a reality check for anyone who might be out there struggling with a song.

 

My friend Charles Humphrey III, bass player for Steep Canyon Rangers, just completed the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run in 29 hours. So I reckon I can keep going on this song.

 

But the biggest news of all is this, live from my little piece of heaven:

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I like big buds and I cannot lie.

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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Pound for pound

We're in the U.K.  The heat is daunting. There's no air-conditioning. The exchange rate is horrendous. There's no majority government. No one knows who the prime minister will be in a few weeks. Fires. Stabbings. People run down with vehicles. 

 

The natural world seems to be carrying on as usual. The fox hunts the pheasant. Wild poppies grow in a wheat field. If all humanity ceased to exist tomorrow, this big beautiful Earth would barely notice. 

 

We've been walking around taking in all of it- the old buildings, the wildflowers, the changing landscape of this country. Europe is in general known in America as The Old World but it's renewed every day. This is the core purpose of art, to see the world in new ways. Through the senses of the artist we experience the world more truly, even through fiction, as our senses are renewed to the ever-changing world.

 

"There's nothing new under the sun." -- Ecclesiastes

 

"You could not step twice into the same river." -- Heraclitus

 

JUN 19 MON

The Musician Pub

Leicester, UK

 

JUN 20 TUE

The Golden Lion

Bristol, UK

 

JUN 21 WED

The Green Note

London, UK

 

JUN 23 FRI

The Live Room at Saltaire

Shipley, UK

Shrewsbury. This wall is likely medieval, though like the family axe it's had a few new handles and a few new heads... 

Shrewsbury. This wall is likely medieval, though like the family axe it's had a few new handles and a few new heads... 

Wild chamomile. The smell slows down time.  

Wild chamomile. The smell slows down time.  

Birmingham mosque. The city is nearly one-quarter Muslim and will soon have no ethnic majority at all. 

Birmingham mosque. The city is nearly one-quarter Muslim and will soon have no ethnic majority at all. 

Life finds a way.  

Life finds a way.  

Summer touring in a Cadillac, an unusual sight on the dual carriageway. You could put an Aston Mini in the trunk.  

Summer touring in a Cadillac, an unusual sight on the dual carriageway. You could put an Aston Mini in the trunk.  

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Perspective from 40,000 feet and 4,000 Miles Away

Saturday June 11

"There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness." -Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

As we drove over the overpass into the airport this morning, there was a man crouched behind a highway sign on the wrong side of the guardrail and a police officer about twelve feet from him, his cruiser blocking one lane, lights flashing. They were having, to say the least, an intense conversation. We had driven under the man and hadn't seen him. The conversation in our car would never return to wherever it had been seconds before. I'm still not sure what happened and I can't find any news about it.

All I know is when I spilled an entire can of tomato juice into my crotch thirty minutes into our first flight, it was no big deal. I laughed out loud. A towel and two cans of seltzer water later, I sat back down looking and feeling like I'd pissed my pants. I still smell a little like soup. I don't remember any of the small, or not so small, discomforts of the transatlantic flight. I'm a little tired. Whatever. I'm alive in a farmhouse in Staffordshire.

I hope that guy is okay. I hope you're okay, wherever you are. If you're not okay, hang on. It gets better. Here's a song of hope from a couple of jet-lagged cowboys a long way from home with laundry to do.

If you're in the UK too, you can see us live:

JUN 12 MON
Hive Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

JUN 13 TUE
Kitchen Garden
Birmingham, United Kingdom

JUN 14 WED
The Biddulph Arms
Stoke-On-Trent, United Kingdom

JUN 15 THU
The Place Theatre
Bedford, United Kingdom

JUN 16 FRI
Festival Hall, Market Rasen
Market Rasen, United Kingdom

JUN 17 SAT
The Bank Eye
Eye, United Kingdom

JUN 19 MON
The Musician Pub
Leicester, United Kingdom

JUN 20 TUE
The Golden Lion
Bristol, United Kingdom

JUN 21 WED
Green Note
London, United Kingdom

JUN 23 FRI
The Live Room at Saltaire
Shipley, United Kingdom

Your fan,

JByrd

 

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Reckon We Are

By the time most of y'all read this, we'll be in the U.K. which will likely be buzzing with the results of the general election. Speaking of buzzing: 

Governments change, music lives on. Come see us:  

 

JUN 12 MON

Hive Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

 

JUN 13 TUE

Kitchen Garden

Birmingham, United Kingdom

 

JUN 14 WED

The Biddulph Arms

Stoke-On-Trent, United Kingdom

 

JUN 15 THU

The Place Theatre

Bedford, United Kingdom

 

JUN 16 FRI

Festival Hall, Market Rasen

Market Rasen, United Kingdom

 

JUN 17 SAT

The Bank Eye

Eye, United Kingdom

 

JUN 19 MON

The Musician Pub

Leicester, United Kingdom

 

JUN 20 TUE

The Golden Lion

Bristol, United Kingdom

 

JUN 21 WED

Green Note

London, United Kingdom

 

JUN 23 FRI

The Live Room at Saltaire

Shipley, United Kingdom

 

Share it!

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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NC to UK

I've been cooking with my wife, riding bikes with my son, and practicing some new material with Johnny for these shows. 

 

JUN 9 FRI

Cat's Cradle

Carrboro, NC

 

JUN 12 MON

Hive Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury, United Kingdom

 

JUN 13 TUE

Kitchen Garden

Birmingham, United Kingdom

 

JUN 14 WED

The Biddulph Arms

Stoke-On-Trent, United Kingdom

 

JUN 15 THU

The Place Theatre

Bedford, United Kingdom

 

JUN 16 FRI

Festival Hall, Market Rasen

Market Rasen, United Kingdom

 

JUN 17 SAT

The Bank Eye

Eye, United Kingdom

 

JUN 19 MON

The Musician Pub

Leicester, United Kingdom

 

JUN 20 TUE

The Golden Lion

Bristol, United Kingdom

 

JUN 21 WED

Green Note

London, United Kingdom

 

JUN 23 FRI

The Live Room at Saltaire

Shipley, United Kingdom

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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Texas to U.K.

Thanks to everybody who came to our shows in Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas. We had a blast touring with our friend Corin Raymond and the legendary Mark Schatz on bass and banjo.  

 

We have one show at home before Johnny and I board that big ol jet airliner for the U.K. 

 

JUN 9 FRI

Cats Cradle

Carrboro, NC

 

JUN 12 MON

The Hive

Shrewsbury, United Kingdom


JUN 13 TUE 

Kitchen Garden Cafe

Birmingham, United Kingdom

 

JUN 14 WED

The Biddulph Arms

Stoke-On-Trent, United Kingdom 

 

JUN 15 THU

The Place

Bedford, United Kingdom

 

JUN 16 FRI

Festival Hall

Market Rasen, United Kingdom

 

JUN 17 SAT

The Bank

Eye, United Kingdom

 

JUN 19 MON

The Musician

Leicester, United Kingdom

 

JUN 20 TUE

Golden Lion

Bristol, United Kingdom

 

JUN 21 WED

The Green Note

London, United Kingdom

 

JUN 23 FRI

The Live Room

Shipley, United Kingdom

 

Your fan, 

 

JByrd

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Department of Homeland Insecurity

Saturday May 27

 

I'm honored to be closing the main stage tonight at the 46th annual Kerrville Folk Festival. When I first came here in 2002, I had one album and didn't even think of myself as a songwriter. I didn't know there was a thing called "singer/songwriter."

 

Tonight I've got one of the biggest gigs in songwriterdom. However, what I'm most excited about is bringing my friend Corin Raymond on stage. By the time he's been on stage a few minutes Corin Raymond will be an inextricable part of Kerrville history.

 

Corin tried to come here in 2009. He was refused at the border. He lost the price of his plane ticket and any gigs he could have been doing during that time he had reserved to be at the festival- easily thousand of dollars. Why? The festival had given Corin a volunteer position in order to save him the price of admission. Someone knew he belonged here in this dusty Texas festival that is half refugee camp and half Holy City.

 

What Corin discovered is that foreigners need a work visa to volunteer in the US. We're not about to let some outsider take an unpaid position away from a hard-working American who deserves to be unpaid, and unpaid well, for their labor.

 

The fact that Corin Raymond is walking straight into one of the biggest songwriter gigs in the US without ever being in the songwriting contest or "working his way up" is some small justice for that injustice. I also feel like we've smuggled great art into the country against the paranoid wishes of an artless bureaucracy that doesn't know the difference between a songwriter and a fighter pilot.

 

Rest assured my fellow Americans, the Department of Homeland Security will do anything to protect you from all the strange beauty that is trying to invade the USA and take all the unpaid jobs. But not tonight. Tonight, Corin is getting paid. Tonight, the enemy of the state is in the Lone Star State where, at least, they know a songwriter when they hear one. And they're going to hear one tonight. Corin Raymond is one of the best ever to grace this stage and that is saying a lot.

 

If you're here, I suggest you be in a seat at 11pm or you're going to hear about it later. If you're not here, I suggest you do whatever it takes to smuggle this big beautiful Canadian into your life.

 

www. corinraymond.com

 

Your fan,

JByrd

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Live on PRX

In case you missed it, here's an hour-long interview and live radio session with Corin Raymond and myself recorded in Tulsa with Scott Aycock and Richard Higgs. We play songs, talk about process and inspiration, and Mark Schatz even plays the banjo on a Diana Jones. Enjoy!

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

 

https://beta.prx.org/stories/205558# 

 

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The Little Path

This is a mural on an apartment building in Austin Texas. It's on the north side of Martin Luther King, east of I-35.

 

I love this city. I love this mural. My favorite thing about it however, is the path beaten into the grass beneath it.

 

Every day, people step up on this little hill and take selfies and group photos. All colors and genders. College students. Families with children. There's no place to park in front of it. There's no sidewalk or stairs. It's a busy road. People do it anyway. Every day.

 

That little path is there for every time someone looked at me sideways and said, "don't you need something to fall back on?" That little path says we need people who are weird enough to spend their entire day thinking about the difference one letter makes. We need people who spend years looking for exactly the right amount of blue in the green. We need art so badly we will do inconvenient and even dangerous things to get to it.

 

The hospital has a sidewalk and a parking lot. The bank has a drive-through window. Food? They'll deliver it.

 

Art doesn't need a path. People will make one. Heartbroken people. People who wonder. People who just need a good laugh or some sign that other people are weird, too.

 

In fact, if your life doesn't have any art in it, I wonder- don't you need something to fall back on?

 

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

 

May 23 Tue

Shipping & Receiving Bar

Fort Worth, TX

 

May 27 Sat

Kerrville Folk Festival

Kerrville TX

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

 

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Happy Mothers Day

I was on the run from the law once for about three months. I rented an apartment, set up utilities, got a job, and navigated an emergency room visit with an invented identity. The US Navy and the police looked for me but they didn't find me. My mother found me.

 

My mother loves Jesus, America, and a good steak. Being impolite is just short of a sin for her. She did not turn me in. She called to make sure that I was safe.

 

When the Navy gave up and mailed my discharge papers home, she called me again to let me know. She drove four hours to see me play in a heavy metal band. She is not, to put it mildly, a fan of heavy metal.

 

The band didn't work out. Mama welcomed me into her home. I got a job and started another band. And another. Out of desperation I toured as a solo songwriter and accidentally hit my stride. Before I left home, Mama earned her Masters at night school while working full time at UNC and probably cleaning up after me. I did inherit this: If no one else will do the dishes, I must. Even at someone else's house.

 

Now I have a child and, Mama, I am so sorry. Oh God. It's hard. My only armor is this doctorate in Unconditional Love from the master.

 

Rock star. Saint. My mother. Happy Mother's Day, Mama.

 

Take your mama to a show. We have Juno-nominee Corin Raymond and two-time IBMA Bass Player of the Year Mark Schatz with us. 

 

Tonight! 

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

For tickets call 337-274-2845

 

May 20 Sat

Lemon Lounge

Austin, TX

 

May 23 Tue

Shipping & Receiving Bar

Fort Worth, TX

 

May 27 Sat

Kerrville Folk Festival

Kerrville, TX

 

 

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Byrd Song

I assembled a Spotify playlist of other artists' recordings of songs I've written or co-written. Steep Canyon Rangers, Red Molly, Tim O'Brien- this is an all-star tribute to me! It's surprising, dazzling, and humbling to hear this much talent taking my songs places I've never been. 

 

 https://open.spotify.com/user/jonathanbyrd/playlist/4qM2R9t798WZZswQJl7BEw

 

Speaking of talent, Corin Raymond and Mark Schatz join us on this May tour!

 

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

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 20 Sat

Lemon Lounge

Austin, TX

 

May 23 Tue

Shipping & Receiving Bar

Fort Worth, TX

 

May 27 Sat

Kerrville Folk Festival

Kerrville, TX

 

Your fan,

 

JByrd

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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

 

 

Wildflowers

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