Last Wednesday I took the train home from Chicago and spent hours in reflection; in the last two months, I’ve played shows in seven states. And I don’t have a car. Or a guitar, for that matter. Needless to say, I’ve learned a number of things:
1. Transportation can be tricky: that trip, I borrowed a guitar, drove from Ann Arbor to Cincinnati with a friend who would bring my keyboard back to Michigan with him (right before he left, his car was towed, but that’s another story), rode from Cincinnati to Chicago with two other musicians playing both of those shows, borrowed a friend’s keyboard in Chicago since mine would have been too much to carry home on the train and took Amtrak back to Ann Arbor.
2. A disproportionate number of female singer/songwriters are vegetarian. (Carnivores like me seem rare.)
2a. Apparently a large number of us are also allergic to cats. And find out the hard way. Well, I did anyway. I used to call myself "semi-allergic," but no longer.
3. It is possible to learn to drive a stick shift a week before leaving on a weeklong tour (another instance of borrowing cars). Just be prepared to face the brunt of road rage while stalling in inopportune places at inopportune times. Like toll booths and Chicago’s infamous traffic jams.
4. Wearing medieval dresses with sleeves that drop almost to the floor during a performance is a bad idea. Even if it is a Halloween show. You’ll end up spending half a set trying to figure out how to strum without getting caught in the sleeves and how to move around onstage without tripping. But your audience will have a good laugh.
5. Belting out showtunes at the top of your lungs in the car for four hours straight does a body good. At the very least, it keeps one awake on 10-hour drives in the middle of the night.
6. Driving through the mountains of Pennsylvania while the trees are changing color will convince you that God’s an Impressionist. Who knew?
7. Jazz musicians can play anything, often without even practicing.
7a. Folk musicians can do this too, but not as nearly as well. We’re jealous.
8. It is possible for a church to run a coffeehouse without falling into the rut of Christian subculture. When I first heard about it, I didn’t know that Rohs Street Café in Cincinnati is connected to a church—literally, when you open up the partition at one wall you’ll walk into the sanctuary. You’ll find some issues of RELEVANT scattered about, but church isn’t even mentioned on their website. Rather, it’s a nonprofit, socially conscious coffeehouse that donates money to programs for foster children and seeks to encourage unity, reconciliation and the arts (and for musicians, it’s a great place to perform).
9. When I started touring, I got into the habit of asking for prayer before each trip, and I would never have anticipated how God would use them. There have been precious few times in my life when I can honestly say I’ve felt supported by others’ prayers, but there’s no other way to describe the last week in August. This is what God created community for: to encourage, to support. And this is especially amazing because a year ago at this time I was floundering because I’d lost my community.
10. I am blessed to be surrounded by incredible friends. It’s both humbling and wonderful to rely on others for instruments and transportation—humbling because I have a tendency to be too self-reliant and dislike asking for help, wonderful because I’ve been the recipient of more generosity than I could have asked for. It’s like grace: simultaneously difficult and easy to accept.
Let’s be honest, being an independent musician is hard. You’re happy if you break even on tour, if that tiny crowd of people actually pays attention to your music, if the venue makes an exception since you’re coming from out of state and starts the tip jar with a few bucks instead of nothing. But it’s also afforded me the opportunity to meet amazing people, visit friends who have moved far away, and see God work in unexpected ways. I don’t play "Christian music," yet I have gotten into spiritual conversations after shows. God is using me in some small way, and I have much to be thankful for. As Dan Vaillancourt sings, "I know my music has not made me rich/but still I’ll sing all my songs for you/sometimes a poor man can give more/than a man born with a silver spoon."