At the beginning of 2013, I released my first album entitled “For whatever we lose,” a quote which I derived from an e.e. cummings poem. The whole verse reads:
"for whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it’s always our self we find in the sea.”
The “sea” can stand for any number of things. For me, the sea is music—or, more specifically, it is willower. It is how I express the sea of my emotions and experiences, and where I find myself staring back at me when I’m sad and confused—or elated—or just at peace.
A song is a mirror, but it also requires a process—a journey that ends in catharsis and a reminder that wherever you go, there you are.
That process of self-reflection and catharsis is not only what I experience when writing a song, but it also occurred (in the most beautiful of ways) when I embarked on my first east coast tour last December.
First, let me say that tour planning is an incredibly difficult process—especially for someone who’s doing it on her own and for the first time. Not only do you have to figure out your timeframe and schedule, you have to research venues, find musicians to play with and places to stay and THEN figure out how in the world you’re going to afford touring for ten days (thus not working your two day/night jobs, thus not making income for ten days because, well, we all know how well musicians get paid nowadays…). It was exciting and daunting at the same time, and each time I received a, “sure, I’d love to play a gig with you!” response, the reality set in that I, in fact, was going to go on tour. So, like a lot of other musicians in my position, I realized that the only way I could make this happen was with help.
Only a few weeks before I was scheduled to leave, I launched my indiegogo campaign in which I asked my supporters to help fund my trip and the first run of willower merch. And well, I really, really wanted to be optimistic when I finally clicked the button to launch my campaign. But I couldn’t help but feel like it was a total shot in the dark. I felt like I was asking for so. much. money. But I knew I was asking for what I needed—and if you aren’t willing to ask for what you need, then you probably shouldn’t expect to get it. (#lifelessons, world, #lifelessons)
As more tour dates got confirmed, I was almost looking for any reason not to go. Maybe the weather will be too wintry to drive! Maybe I shouldn’t take that many days off from work! Maybe I won’t raise enough money to afford the gas!
But I will reiterate:
Do not ask for what you’re not ready to receive.
In just a about two weeks, I actually exceeded my original goal of $1100. It’s as if the universe was like, “What’s that? You’re nervous? Too bad—you asked for it now GET YOUR ASS ON THE ROAD.”
I was absolutely ASTOUNDED the day I met my goal. I could hardly fathom why people would be SO NICE. I am still floored and remain so grateful to those who contributed and made my tour possible.
On December 7th, I began my willower wanders winter land tour. I must have spent at least 40 hours in my car driving. As you can imagine, I got a lot of really great thinkin’ done. Those thoughts and experiences are what follows.
My first gig was in Pittsburgh, PA at this great little indie space on Penn Ave. called Garfield Artworks. But first I stopped in West Virginia to pick up my good friend Sharon (or as I like to call her, Mountain Mama). After navigating the confusing and icy streets of Pittsburgh, we arrived at the venue in the nick of time. The people were so attentive and engaged and the other acts—Erika Blatnik, Aydan, and Graph Rabbit—were all fantastic. It was the perfect way to begin my tour. I spent the next couple of days hanging out in WV with Sharon and the cutest chihuahua (who I might have tried to fit in my luggage before I left…) ever. It was just the break I needed, as I’d come down with a terrible chest cold just days before I left for tour.
Next, I made the seven-hour drive to Albany, NY—a wondrous place I’d never had the chance to visit before! I arrived at my friend Kiki’s house just a couple hours before the gig. I met Kiki at the first ever Women’s Music Summit which was held in Big Indian, NY in late summer of 2012. The WMS was one of the most magical experiences of my life and I am so grateful to have met and connected with so many amazing women musicians. So it was definitely awesome to reconnect with a friend and then play a gig in a city that I may not have made it to otherwise (yet!). The venue I played, Justin’s, was so warm, intimate, and receptive. The crowd was quiet when I played, but engaged with me between songs during my always-awkward stage banter—which is basically how I wish every audience would be. The other acts of the night showcased the fact that Albany has a lot of talent. I wish I could have spent more time there because that place and its people were just so lovely.
My next adventure was the one I was the most nervous about: my NYC gig. I’d been to the City once before and was traumatized while driving in because I got lost and only had paper Mapquest directions to rely on. I was to play at The Bowery Electric, which is in Manhattan on the Lower East Side. Anticipating the drive in, I was terrified and was extremely nervous about how to figure out where/how in the hell people parked their cars there. I even went so far as to google “how to park in Manhattan” the night before I left in hopes that someone would have some advice. Mostly, I found all these articles about how to understand the plethora of confusing parking signs in NYC—the difference between “No Parking,” “No Standing,” and “No Stopping.” It was certainly an informative search but only really made me feel even more uncertain about how I’d navigate the Parking Spot Problem (or PSP as I like to call it). Fortunately, one of the sites I found has a list of parking garages in NYC. My strategy was to put the address of the closest garage to the venue in my GPS and just cross my fingers that I could find it and score a space.
My drive from Albany to NYC was my favorite driving time of tour. It epitomized the winterland that I’d envisioned as I booked my tour and created my indiegogo campaign. I went through the Taconic Parkway and the snowy landscape provided me with the perfect scenes of peacefulness and quiet calm that I needed so that I didn’t have a panic attack about the dreaded PSP.
I’ll never forget the moment when the tops of those tall New York City buildings first revealed themselves against the skyline. I gasped in excitement and my eyes filled with tears. Then I felt this strange confusion as I tried to figure out what it was that was making me cry—excitement? Fear? Gratitude? All of it—or, alladat, as they say. Here it was before me: my biggest challenge, not only to play NYC for the first time but to, yes, find that damn parking space. As my ever so freakishly-calm-and-robotic GPS voice-lady guided me through every exit and turn to get into the City, I continued to fill with emotion until tears were just pouring down my cheeks. So I did was most normal people do: I started giving myself a pep talk.
"Kristen, you’re doing great. Nothing is wrong and everything is fine. And Siri knows exactly where you are and there is a parking space JUST FOR YOU when you get there."
After all of that, I found myself at the entrance of the parking garage I’d programmed into my intelligent phone.
"How long you stay?" the attendant asked me when I pulled in.
"Probably all day. Is that okay?" I timidly responded.
"I give you $35, 24 hours."
"You have everything you need?"
I grabbed my coat and my wallet, and somewhat reluctantly and quickly stepped out of my car. The attendant hopped in and then all of a sudden, there I was.
I was there. I’d made it. And I PARKED THE CAR. Well, ok, I had the car parked but same result.
The feeling of leaving my car behind in such a rushed interaction—not only with all of my precious gear and my keys inside, but with all that emotion I had just spilled into it—and then just stepping out and rounding the corner with nothing but a coat, a wallet, and a phone felt for some reason so vulnerable and so freeing. Surreal, to say the least.
So then I did the only thing I could think to do: told Facebook that I parked my car and then commenced to walking. I couldn’t even bring myself to go in anywhere, and only managed to snap two quick photos the whole time I was there. I walked in the freezing cold for hours and attempted to make it up towards midtown to see at least one famous NYC landmark, but realized eventually that I really needed to just find the venue before dark since I was alone.
The Bowery Electric was yet another just perfect space for my music—so intimate and dark and ambient. The stage is set towards the back of the bar and has limited seating surrounding it. Most people sit out in the bar area where you can watch the performers projected onto TV screens above the bar. There were so many acts on the bill that I only had time to play three songs, making it my shortest set ever. But I couldn’t help but feel so proud and grateful to have performed my three favorite songs in such an amazing place.
After the show, I headed to Queens where I stayed with another fellow WMS alumna, Lilah. It’s a shame I didn’t have more time to visit with her because I bet we could have remembered every bit of that oh-so-90s Lisa Loeb-esque pop song we wrote at the Summit! Luckily, I also found a place to park by Lilah’s apartment, and only had to relocate it maybe three different times (stupid fire hydrants!) before finding a suitable spot.
The next day, only $11 in tolls, seven states, and ten hours later and I was home in NC.
I spent a couple of days resting and decompressing before hitting the road for my last gig in Athens, GA. This time, I wasn’t driving alone since my amazing and supportive ladyfriend was making the trip with me. Early Sunday, Lauren and I left for Athens where we’d meet up with one of my favorite people, Rebecca.
First, we ate ALL THE FOOD at this great vegetarian restaurant called The Grit, then I played at Hendershot’s with the talented and quirky Erin Lovett of Four Eyes. The venue was the best! Amazing stage with an incredible sound guy, and the sweetest of sweet, awesome people in the crowd. This night will forever remain a warm spot in my heart.
One of my favorite moments was when a kind fella approached me after my set and explained that he’d recently had a conversation with a friend about how “music can be so healing.” As the words left his mouth, he began to tear up and, without saying anything else, conveyed to me that my music had moved him and, perhaps, had provided him some kind of healing as he listened and connected to my songs.
It was the perfect ending, and a reminder of the catharsis that comes from connecting to music, and being able to use music to connect to others. Knowing that I can create that mirror through music not only to reflect my own self, but also that others find reflective of their selves creates a new dynamic, a shared sea of emotions and experiences, and one only made possible by taking the risk to share it.
On the road, I felt overwhelmed with how thankful I was for all the people, all who come from different parts, times, phases of my life, who helped me make this first little step in my career possible. True, I’m a one-woman band but I didn’t create this opportunity for myself alone. It took financial backing from indiegogo contributors, collaboration with other musicians who helped me get gigs, support from loved ones at home, the open doors of the awesome people who let me crash on their couches and who made sure I had good food to eat, and the willingness of the new audience members to listen openly in each new place I played.
Thank you all.
I can’t wait to see you again.