Six years ago I was waking up in Charlotte wishing I could relive the previous night. I, along with a small group of friends and strangers, were treated to an evening of storytelling and art by Scott Avett. While Avett is best known for his songwriting and musical prowess as co-frontman of The Avett Brothers, he also wears other creative hats. That evening, donned in all black, Avett–proud, yet introspective–opened up about his journey as a visual artist. As we sat, surrounded by what felt like a lifetime of his paintings, charcoal sketches, and linolium prints, we listened and watched intently as he spoke. The event–The Paintings of Scott Avett: Exploring Story and Spirituality–was about more than gaining a glimpse into the world of someone we admired. It was about raising awareness for the Educational Center in Charlotte. It was about personal expression and the spiritual journey that we are all on, regardless of if we recognize it or not. It was about community.
Since that evening, Scott has participated in similar, intimate events–whether it be to discuss his music, visual art or both. These events are designed to keep people close, to stir emotions in a relatively small space. While they appear exclusive, that is not the driving force or goal. The ripple effect that occurs after such events–the spreading, sharing and intermingling of ideas–is akin to the root system in a forest. It is sustaining and strong. It connects and grounds us. While most of Avett’s fans will never experience him in this type of forum, he has begun to share his artistic process with those who are interested. Through social media, Avett reveals the evolution of a painting or print, the development of color, the depths of shadow, and the complexities of the world around him. His most recent progression–like many of his paintings–is centered on his family and the interaction and energy of generations.
In the spirit of community, connectedness and inclusivity, here is the transcript from that magical evening six years ago (2/26/2012). While the feelings evoked in the moment can not be reproduced by these words, perhaps the stories told will push that ripple a bit further beyond its current limits. Enjoy…
Shelia Enis: The center is over one hundred and sixty years old and it all began when someone left a baby on the doorstep of at St. John’s Episcopal Church in St. Louis. The woman of the church took the baby in, so the center started as an orphanage and was called The Church Association for the Relief of Orphans and Destitute Persons. That was in January of 1843. The first year they admitted three more children and the budget for that year was $37.75. So obviously the church association was concerned with the physical and mental well being of the children. They also became concerned about their spiritual lives and religious education. The entire history is very fascinating. What came out of this is a research center and spiritual education that has been nationally acclaimed a pioneer in research of religion education, particularly in the methodology called miutic, which is the Greek word for midwife and it means as a teacher or facilitator. You are not the authority. You simply help another person work what that person may already know. The thing that we do is to create curriculum resources and events and retreats to enrich people’s spiritual journey. We deal with life questions that have no answers. The goal, the vision and mission behind the center is that we all evolve spiritually and psychologically and socially and that we become conscious along the way.
Tilly Tice (President of Board of Directors of the Educational Center): Who would have thought that two and a half years ago when I got a call from Shelia Enis saying we really need to move The Educational Center to Charlotte, North Carolina instead of St. Louis because the crux of the support for the center is really in the Carolinas, particularly in Charlotte. I never would have thought that an event like tonight would come to be. It is just incredible to me that this event was actually bestowed upon us by the insight of Shelia and Tom. Of course I knew about Scott Avett. I knew about his music, but that Scott himself might make himself available and his remarkable artwork as a catalyst for a benefit for the Educational Center was never even in a seed in the pod of possibilities that I saw. And had it not been for Shelia and the fact that she had the realization that we need to move from St. Louis to Charlotte. Had she not been married to Tom Schultz, who had become such a wonderful supporter of the Educational Center. Were it not for the fact that Tom happened to be owner of a gallery empathinc and met Scott Avett, none of us would be here tonight. Do I believe in synchronicity? Absolutely, without a doubt. You can bet I do and Tom and Shelia recognized it. The better they got to know Scott, the more deeply convinced they were that, ‘Hey this is a fella who is very much about the same kinds of things the Educational Center is about. Here is someone else who is committed to moving beneath the layers of human stories, of personal history and experiences to discover deeper levels of spiritual reality and knowing.’ On behalf of the board of the Educational Center I express my warmest gratitude to Tom and Shelia, for the genesis of this evening and for all of the energy, time, and effort that has gone into the development of the evening. They called together one of the best planning teams that you could imagine. (Multiple thank yous). Last and most important, most deeply appreciated…the man himself Scott Avett. Scott recognized also as Tom and Shelia talked to him about the educational center and the work we do, that we had much in common. Our work using varying arrow in all sorts of different forms, is also Scott like your work, connecting to the spirit lying in the center of all of us. You made a stupendous commitment to come to us and be the center of this benefit. How do we say thank you when the words “thank you” will never be adequate? Your gift to us is of yourself and your sacred artistic expression is beyond mere words.
Tom Schultz: I am glad you all could come over tonight. I met Scott in 2003 when he wandered into my studio and asked if he could hang a few paintings up. So, I knew that he had a little band, which nothing much has changed if you were able to convince yourself that the Grammy award stage was a bar and Bob Dylan was your bartender. I could go there. I want to talk a little bit about these paintings. I’ve spent a lot of time with these paintings. I’ll tell you a story. I have a dog, Olive, and I walk Olive every night at 10 o’clock. I meet people. Some of you here have met Olive. We are on the lookout for unusual things. Last Fall we were walking in Elizabeth, with the skyline of Charlotte visible to us and Olive stopped. I’ve learned to stop when Olive stops and see what she’s looking at. Well there was a two-point buck and a doe that were walking across the asphalt, and disappeared into someone’s yard. I thought that wildness in this sophisticated urban area was a juxtaposition. It was just a marvel for me. So, let me tell you about these paintings. When you see the color under the arm that is painted so deftly, you are dealing with something wild that is also sophisticated. When you see one brush stroke that defines an entire toe so clearly and succinctly, you are looking at something wild that is also sophisticated. I often compare Scott’s work to writers like early John Steinbeck. Sometimes I think that there’s an air of grit to the reality that he portrays. There is a bit of wildness in sophistication. I hope you recognize that and after looking at these paintings, accept Scott’s invitation to you to find the wildness in you that’s wrapped up in your sophistication. My son Isaac, who is also a painters, tells me that when I like someone’s art work I say, “Yeah they can paint.” But when I really love someone’s art work I say, “That make me WANT to paint.” So Scott I am going to ask you to wrap this up man, because I want to go paint. Ladies and gentlemen, Scott Avett.
Scott Avett: First of all let me say thank you to Tilly and the Educational Center for having me and allowing me to do this. For reading the mission statement with a mission of the EC and the importance and the power that they imply and put on story as a tool for spiritual enlightenment and seeking, seems right in line with what I do, and what my brother and our brothers do. I’d also like to say thank you to Shelia and Tom, with all of my heart, and the committee called Team Avett. Some of the other Team Avett that we have with our band, well I don’t want you all to get into anything (laughter)…Thank you so much for making this happen.
When I think about this location here, Charlotte, South Charlotte in particular, I think about this story every time. This year, different from the talk that Shelia and Tom saw me do, I told myself, “You know I am not going to write anything. I’m not going to think about anything. I’m not going to plan anything.” And so for the past four months I kept this discipline of being really lazy (laughs) and not planning anything. And so, here’s my lead-off story. I just figured that the story is so important. Any lesson and anything that is important within the story, it’s implied as the Educational Center implies as well. And it says it directly that we are, and I am not really any kind of authority, and I can’t even pretend to be. I have been butting my head against the wall a lot of my life trying to be an authority of certain things and every year that goes by I realize how ridiculous that is. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like 10 years from now.
But, being in South Charlotte makes me think about meeting these girls in high school at the beach. And exchanging numbers with them – me and some friends of mine from Concord – and coming home from the beach and preparing to come to Charlotte with this friend of mine to meet these girls and take them on, not a date, but an outing because it was during the day. Now, coming from Cabarrus County, we were soccer players and we’d come to South Charlotte to play soccer tournaments and soccer matches, and we were destroyed every time. I mean, on and on, from when I was a little kid playing rec to high school and getting beat like 19-1, 14-2 (points). There’s one of them back there right now. That was my interaction and dealings with South Charlotte, other than it being this mansion on a hill place. I remember going through there seeing houses that I thought, “Nobody knows the people who live in those houses. Nobody does.” I don’t know if people do live in those houses. Do they ever come out and the people who do come out, do they live in those houses? They seemed so far away from the road literally and also metaphorically. So anyway, that was my experience with South Charlotte. So in preparation to go pick these girls up that we met at the beach on an outing, I decided, “Well, soccer is popular in South Charlotte.” There are really good soccer players there, so I’m thinking, I’ll wear a World Cup t-shirt. (laughs) You know the World Cup t-shirt with the soccer ball with the planet on it. I thought, “Oh this is good, this is good.” So, I’m a shoe guy so I am thinking, “What shoes should I wear?” Well I had these blue puma indoor soccer shoes, and they are suede. I realized today just thinking about this “I had blue suede shoes!” (laughs) So to complete the look I go to the drawer and get my Umbros–my blue Umbros. So I’ve got my sort of World Cup America look going on. And anyone who knows what Umbros are, they are like wearing boxers in public. It’s like this new fad where some people wear pajamas in public, and I’m like, “Uh, it’s kind of crazy!” So anyway, we hand-picked a friend of ours who had a convertible because we thought that would be pretty cool. So it was me and this farmer friend of mine and a guy we thought was kind of uptown from Concord, who lived on Union Street so he was more city-oriented. We went up and met these girls and I mean, I am sure during the day I was like, “This is going okay. That look that they gave me when I walked through the door wasn’t that bad.” Looking back on it, they were nice. They went out with us and probably chose a place where they wouldn’t see any of their friends. I remember thinking that I didn’t really hear back from them so I guess it didn’t really go so well. But now looking back I just appreciate their sympathy (laughs).
But as I thought about that story, it led me on to think about the differences between going up in Charlotte and growing up in Cabarrus County. I was thinking about the perspective I had and the forced need to use my creativity. Being in the woods for long hours with nobody else, and fashioning toys and guns out of branches…My point is that being around less people, other than family –my brother, sister, mom and dad– we didn’t have any neighbors at the time. It got me thinking about the things that we did and the things that were forming us and the things that were growing meaning in our lives–the experiences that we had, with the push and the pull and the conflicts that we encountered. And it made me think about this story that happened maybe a year before I came here dressed as a soccer player for a day (laughs). I thought about the trouble that I could get into in Cabarrus County and the space that you had and the opportunities that you had to really wreck some shop really. I remember a friend of mine coming to me and saying (he was an older friend…I was a freshman and he was a senior). His name was Ryan. Ryan had a girlfriend named Katrina. He said, “We need to steal Katrina Avenue, the sign. It is going to look good for me to have this sign.” I was 14 years old and so I said, “That sounds like a great idea.” You aren’t a burglar if you are stealing from the government, right? There was just something about it that felt okay. (laughs). So we employed another friend of ours, another Scott, who was also a 17 year old. We agreed that Friday night we would go steal Katrina Avenue. So we went out Friday night. We had all of this open space and much less people. We started the night early to get Katrina Avenue, but it was very difficult and we didn’t have the right tools so we gave up on it. But we decided we would just carry on the rest of the night and we will steal some other signs. I mean this is 14 years old, in a car by myself with these guys just looking for trouble. So, we agreed that Scott and Scott would be dropped off at a stop sign at a golf course, and that we will steal the stop sign since we can’t get the street sign. We would just push it down and take the stop sign. So, we agreed that the little Honda that Ryan was driving would drive around the neighborhood and head back once we had the stop sign, and we would get in. I remember him driving away and it was really moonlit out there and as the car was just scooting off, the sign comes down and we were there with our tools and there was just something thrilling about taking this sign down in this neighborhood, this golf course neighborhood. You know we’re getting one for the team. So, Scott and I start working on this sign. We pushed the sign down and we’re working around this with our ratchet. We’ve got a ratchet and adjustable screw drivers and wrenches just in case. Ryan’s gone, he’s going to be gone for a couple of minutes. I heard some of this rustling around at the ranch house across the street and I knew the family that lived over there somewhere. But we’re still working. It got kind of quiet and we heard just a huge “KABOOM!” I was like, “What is that?!” That was a car backfiring. Somebody’s over there and they cranked their car and it backfired. I actually had a buddy that had a Jeep and we would drive around Concord and downshift so it would backfire and scare people. So, I am instantly thinking that the car backfired because that’s something we do in Cabarrus County. (laughs) With that we both decided that we were going to head Ryan off at the path and we are going to go ahead and get out of here. So we go out in search of the car and here comes Ryan in the little Honda and hop in. And I am the youngest so I have to get in the hatchback (scrunches his body into a ball), because it’s a two-door. Well we go around and end up at a dead end, and we have to go back to where we heard the car backfire. We had to drive back by there and we were kind of scared because we knew someone was out there. So we all decided that we were going to cruise by there and everybody agreed that we were going to drive slow, cruise by and we didn’t see any sign, we would be good. They probably called the police so we were going home. This was really dumb so let’s just go home. So we are cruising along and I was crunched up in the back looking through this foggy window and as I look I see this guy behind a chain linked fence. I just see someone pacing then all of a sudden there was glass breaking and the KABOOM again, and it was like, “Pa-ching-ching!” (high pitched noise of a ricocheting bullet). And a bullet goes through the front door panel of the car and through the center console of the car and through the laces of the Converse All-Stars that Scott’s wearing. And it pops the laces. It doesn’t go through his foot, just through his shoe. Of course everyone in the car, Scott and I broke out in a giggle because we were terrified. We were hysterical. Ryan drops his head and just drove. Of course the police were on their way and of course the man who had shot at us had called the police as well so there was a strange thing going on there. So we get taken in and we get arrested. I am 14 years old so the police officer obviously knows that I am going to tell. (laughs) And I did tell the whole story and I sold them all out. To think that that glass in the room was just a mirror and everyone else in the room watching and thinking “Just tell them we weren’t there.” I spent 4 or 5 hours at the police department and at the end my dad comes and picks me up. My dad talks to the police a little bit and we walk out. They are like “Okay, goodnight, we will see you at court.” As he picks me up the first thing he says is “I need to go to the grocery store. I need some bread. Mom needs some bread.” I said, “Ok.” He said, “I think I want some gum too.” I said (laugh), “Ok.” So we are on the way to the grocery store and I said, “Dad I guess I’m really, really in trouble.” He said, “Son, I think we are going to lower your curfew a little bit and you are going to be in all sorts of trouble with the judicial system so there’s no point in grounding you. What am I going to do? I’m not going to whoop you. You are terrified right now, as you should be. You are going to make these mistakes, and I just don’t want you to get killed along the way. You’re going to get hurt and I don’t want you to get hurt beyond repair.” How lucky was I to have gone through that. I mean it was just a mindless thing to do but at 14, especially 14 for a boy, mindlessness is like growing hair I guess. It’s something that we have a lot of or are starting to have a lot of. So I ended up having 24 hours of community service, and I marked it as an experience that changed my life. I never vandalized and I never went on a vandalizing outing again, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. It was a ridiculous thing to do. But, I think at that moment, not just my dad’s wisdom or my dad’s experience, that was the only thing that showed me that I should listen to it.
What happened next over the years, at 15 my relationship with me and my dad grew closer and stronger in his invitation to work with him on the bridges he was building. My dad was a welder. He is still a welder, but is now retired from it. He invited me at 15 years old to come work with him as a laborer on the bridge, which I don’t’ think I wanted to do but I felt like I needed to or I would be a failure if I didn’t step up to the challenge. So it was not for anything that he had done. This was just a feeling from within. So I went work with him on the first job on Independence Blvd. For some reason, that story that I just told led to this and two incidences on the bridge. The first day I went to work with my dad I remember hammering to beat down this piece of metal to get it prepared to weld, and I remember this is the first job I was ordered to do and I am swinging this thing and I let that thing rip right out of my hand. I just see this hammer headed down to Independence Blvd and cars just flying back and forth and it lands right there at the white line. Cars are still just going back and forth. I’m like, “Okay, cool.” So nobody saw it and I am like this (acting like nothing happened) (laugh). So, I was done with the hammering and had to move on to the decking. And decking was like this long and this tall and it’s steel, it’s pure steel, and it’s heavy. I am 15 so I am moving through them really fast and I do like 40 of them–taking them in popping them down, taking them in popping them down. I am thinking this is great. Dad’s going to come over and tell us we can leave soon. It’s getting late in the morning and he’s going to take me to lunch. You know, I’m the bosses son! I am just worn out and getting dizzy you know (laughing). He says, “Alright you guys got it I will see you later in the day.” I’m thinking well I guess I am staying for the rest of the day. At 15, I am looking back and thinking about this bridge work and thinking about being up there on that bridge and thinking about my own kids and sending them out on the bridge and thinking, “Wow, you know, talk about letting go.” But it’s the right thing to do.
Later in my experiences with my dad on the bridge, I would still be laying deck out and the trick is that you have angled iron between and there are lips or L-shapes that you are throwing the decking down between and you are just throwing them down and you go. So you pop a couple in as you go, and then you come back and screw them all out and secure it and the concrete goes down. Well Dad’s rule was consistency. You keep 55 mph for 8 hrs you get farther than if you do 75 then 45 then 75 then get a ticket 85, get another ticket, get arrested. You know you’d take a couple days to get where you are going. So what he said was to do one piece of decking at a time. Put one piece down, put a screw in it, and then put another piece down. Me and the guy that I was working with felt like we knew enough that we’ll put two down and we will fly through this. So we are putting two down and I’d put the screw in. The thing about putting two down is that you have one foot on the angle and one foot on the decking. Without screws in it, you could just do this (acts it out) and it would slide out from under you. You’ve got 30-40 feet beneath you to road. It was unmarked road that wasn’t in use yet. So we are laying out two and I’ve got one foot on an angle and one foot on a piece of decking, and I go to screw it down and it’s going fine. We are cheating the system. We’re cheating Dad’s advice. The guy I am working with sort of kicks the decking to get it in place and before I know it this thing slides out from under me and in a split second all I see is road and concrete and decking falling. I’m falling and one of the pieces of decking comes up and cuts my arm and the next moment I am back up on the angle. Just 30 seconds later and I’m thinking, “Okay, I was just free-falling and I grabbed this piece of rebar and pulled myself up.” I walked back up and I was like, “Cool, I’m not even shaking.” Thirty seconds later I am just shaking and in shock. My dad comes over about another minute later and says, “Okay let’s get back out there.” I’m thinking, “You’ve got to be joking right? You saw what just happened. I’ve gotta collect myself.” That was tough. That was traumatic. He said, “If you don’t come out here now you will never come out here again. You’ll be scared of heights the rest of your life.” So I went back out there. What that story made me think about was, where in the world does this urgency and this work ethic that I know that my brother and I talk about a lot, we actually try to keep it at bay, but where did it come from? As I tell those stories about working on the bridge it’s just no mystery as to where that discipline comes from. It’s the same discipline that told me, “Don’t write down and outline for this talk. It will come to you. Whatever these stories are or whatever you are going to talk about will happen. Nothing wrong could happen so just do it.” So this work ethic grew throughout my life which helps push this need for me to make sure that this gallery is full or a calendar is full or a map is connected and each dot on the map is connected closely and carefully.
After thinking about those stories I started thinking about this thing that I had read – a small essay out of a group of writings called The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin. John Ruskin is a writer who I was introduced to through reading Tolstoy, which has become the centerpiece to my inspirational writing and spirituality and Christianity and understanding. And how it can be misunderstood by so many and mistranslated by so many. But John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, he has an essay called, The Seeing and Feeling Creature, which says that artists are put on this planet to do two things, but in total he’s really describing three things. He says we are here to see, and to feel, and to document. The artist can try to think, but he’s not here to do that. He can try to explain and analyze, but he’s not here to do that. He can go to parties, but he’s not here to party. He can’t. He really can’t. He can go to the bar and pretend that he’s going to sit down and drink with the rest of the guys, but it can’t last long. It won’t last long because as soon as he feels something he has to act on it and move on it. The documenting, which is the third thing in this description and I believe this is true and I understood when I read it, quite a bit. I recall going to parties growing up and even now when you want to be a good time guy, and you want to be there with everyone else and something creeps in and something has to be done. It’s a total curse. And it’s not romantic and it’s really not emotional and it’s sometimes very anti-emotional. Well maybe emotional isn’t the right word, but maybe it’s not passionate in the way people like to describe passion. “Oh he’s such a passionate person. I would love to be around that person.” I doubt you would because you are going to be quickly moved out of the way so that he can get to this documentation. That they must…that they are just robots in trying to make happy, which is the best thing that I can really say as far as explaining why I do the work here that I do.
I didn’t realize that I was a storyteller until I was asked to do this talk and it made me think about it. I didn’t realize that my brother and I, regardless of if I make paintings or not and the pictures made stories, that we were storytellers until I started thinking about it. By default or directly, we are certain storytellers. That’s been something that the Educational Center has taught me. In this one event, I didn’t even know about the Educational Center before, but it’s been an amazing exchange in that regard. But, The Seeing and Feeling Creature hit home for me and when I think about the work ethic that sort of directs me and directs my hands and that directs the work order of the schedule that I feel like I should keep, the “seeing and feeling” philosophy don’t jive so well or work together so well because when you are seeing and feeling everything and you’ve got a schedule to keep and a place to be and some people who need to count on you, you just might not be there, because you might feel something that you have to go take care of. I’ve had this experience where I’ve gotta be somewhere and I am driving, leaving home, and I drive by the farm that’s near my house and I see a horse that had died the night before. As morbid and it will sound, I can’t help that I had to turn around and go get my camera and photograph as much of it as I could. I don’t’ know why. It could sound grotesque to some people, maybe not to a [person] who is going to come and take the horse away, but for most of us it’s kind of like, “Well, why would you want a picture of that?” Well I don’t know, but I do know that when I am standing there taking a picture and being late for my appointment, which may be art related, it’s this weird conflict that is happening. This “seeing and feeling” is actually taking away from the “seeing and feeling” that happened. There is definitely something that’s happened to experience this body that no more soul will inhabit, that it is just this piece of future dirt. That’s real interesting to me. With the “seeing and feeling” and the work ethic, there’s a balance that is ongoing for me and at the moment as I think about what I am called to do and my obligations to the visual and through song and through story, it feels in order. But in the next moment it very well could flip over and find itself off the rails.
This opportunity to speak came at a time where self-awareness is not a big part of my life at the moment. A year ago, when Shelia and Tom were so nice to come see my talk I was still talking about this self-actualization that maybe I heard about in psychology class in high school, and talking about self awareness and still this hope for control of something. The opportunity to do this talk came at a time when self-awareness is relatively ailing for me. That made me think of a story. This year Seth and I were invited to go to a forest fire benefit show in Texas. We got a call from our booking agency that said, “Ray from Asleep at the Wheel is playing as Willie Nelson’s band at this event. It’s going to be Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, The Dixie Chicks and George Straight and you’ve been invited to come and sing with Willie Nelson on stage. It’s going to be a great event. It’s going to be huge! It’s going to be 16-18,000 people all around in the big stadium. It’s sold out and it’s a great opportunity.” It could have been any event for us to go and share the stage with Willie Nelson, we would have jumped on it. So I said that we’d love to and we made the agreement. They came to us and said, “What songs would you like to do?” I said, “Well I think we’d like to do one of our songs, one of Willie’s songs and then a gospel song.” Then they came back and said, “Well, Willie doesn’t do other people’s songs and he only knows two gospel songs.” So we said, “Well, what two gospel songs does he know?” They said, “Well, Will the ‘Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On a Cloudy Day’.” So we said, “Well okay we will do those two and then we will do one of his, that’s fine.” So we show up that day and they say, “Willie wrote a song called ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’. We’re going to do ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’, ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On the Road Again’.” It was going to be the grand finale for the show. We were like, “Whatever! We will play it.” Well Ray was on the bus with us and he said, “I don’t even know what key the song is in. He told me “C” but I’ve never even heard the song. We’ll be on stage to play it. It doesn’t look like we are going to get a sound check. Willie won’t show up until 10 minutes before the show so forget about that anyway. So it looks like the first time you are going to be on stage with me or Willie Nelson is when we are going to play.” We were like, “Okay, sounds good.” (laugh). This is like a huge group of people–cowboy hats, trucker hats. You’ve got Lyle Lovett wandering around. The Dixie Chicks haven’t played in 5 years. George Straight has more #1 hits than anybody in history, so this is just a great event. Early, you know the nerves are definitely starting to twist, because I am thinking, “Man I can’t play lead in “E” for ‘On the Road Again’ on the banjo. I’m not even capable of it, and maybe I am in “E” sometimes and maybe I don’t even know!” I am thinking this is going to be crazy. I am not too nervous about going on stage for the first time with Willie Nelson in front of people, that’s okay. But, if he calls on me to do something I don’t know. We are getting close. The stage manager calls us over and it’s almost our big moment. Willie’s doing his thing and the show is amazing. Such a tale, such a road that he’s seen and such a life that he’s seen. We are watching all of this up on stage and the stage manager says, “Look we aren’t doing this ‘Roll me up and Smoke me when I die’ song. The band doesn’t know it, you guys aren’t going to know it, so we’ll just skip it. So ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and ‘On the Road again’.” I was like, “Cool.” That was like a pound of weight is lifted off and I’m feeling better. We’re waiting and we’re looking at the teleprompter up there and it’s like giving the songs and the setlist and here comes ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ and we’re thinking, OK and he says, “Okay GO!” Seth and I go out there and we are trying to maintain our composure. We get our instruments up and I plug in the banjo and Seth’s plugging in the guitar. Willies’ just looking at us and smiling. They told us, “Willie’s just going to love having you up there. He loves playing with as many people as he can. It’s going to be great.” So he’s looking and he kind of looks over with a question expression on his face. He kind of walks up and he looks down at the banjo and he says, “mumble mumble…what key?” I thought, “Did he just ask me what key?” I said, “Key of G?” and he said, “What song?” There were like 16,000 people and I was like, “Will the circle be Unbroken?” He looked over at Seth and said, “Key of G?” and Seth said, “Yea” and he said, “Well alright!” (laughs). And he’s just like 78 years old and his hands and everything are just ripping it up and so graceful and not missing a note. I’m just watching his fingers just move, and I look over and he’s just grinnin’.
But it was a great experience and it made me think about self-awareness and that 10 years ago when I started on this journey that I am with the music, I probably would have looked at that in such a different way. I would have thought, “How in the WORLD does he not know what song we’re going to play? How in the world does he not know, maybe, where he’s at? (laughs)” That’s not what I thought at all. If I would have attempted that 10 years ago I would have been as ridiculous as I was to steal a stop sign. To even judge that or to even think that I have a right to assess that would be crazy because Seth and I have looked at each other plenty of times and said, “Are we in Ohio?” (laughs). We know where we are, because we talk about it all day. We ate here and talked to everyone that was there. We know the people there by name! It’s just the self awareness of where you are and my point in all of that is there really is much less of a tale or a path that I think about with the work. There’s a little bit of a direction. I really don’t have much faith in a future for it. I don’t really bother with that. I do have faith in the direction, but you know, it’s right now. It’s this moment and I’m going to do what I can to make the next piece and understand why I am making the next piece. When I see something and feel it, I know to go and do it. And I know the things that I don’t think that I did well I try to do them better the next time. That’s pretty much the mathematics to that. And the work, I am careful to walk around and talk about meanings or hidden meanings because I think when I get to try to sound sophisticated or complicated or speak in big words it’s just because I am lying or I just want to hear myself talk. I really don’t want to lie and I really do get tired of hearing myself talk believe it or not. Although I am the one who is usually outside of the bus keeping fans longer than they are wanting. They are like, “You really should go inside.” and I’m like, “Well hold on, you should hear about this one time when Seth was like this…let’s talk about this painting….you want my autograph?!” and they are like, “No it’s okay.” (laughs)
So those are my stories, and I do think that I have learned most importantly that all of these pictures are stories and I do have something to say, I certainly do and I can speak on all of them. But I am really thankful that the Educational Center put that reflective device in front of me to help me realize that WOW, there are a lot of stories here and I need to document them. This life and the facet of stories that are in them being told every moment, in short and in long, it’s a beautiful thing. To think that there is not a spiritual accompaniment, we can all talk about what we know, and it’s jibberish probably, but we all know that there is something we don’t know. I think we can all agree on that.