June 2018: Long Story Long, and Another Tour!

Hello and happy summer! (AND HAPPY CANCER SEASON MY FELLOW CANCERS <3)

Yes it’s been quite a while--to be honest I’ve been rather intimidated by the prospect of writing again! So much has transpired since I last wrote to you, but it’s been such a quiet, slow transpiring that the act of putting words to it sinks the experience down into something that it isn’t, in a way. But I can say safely that these past few months have been a mixture: a couple long stints of isolation, creative time, recuperation, figuring my life out, punctuated by a brief interlude of hopping around the northeast, playing shows and teaching a bit and other odd adventures. (perhaps I saw you along the way!)

It’s been a very reflective time for me--challenging in a lot of ways, because in a sense I’m between lives right now. I’m not living in Boston any more, and I’m trying to figure out my next move, but in the meantime I’m finding myself in limbo. Change is weird and hard, but very good! And with it I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on the sensation of having a past, and how empowering it is to choose what parts of our experience we carry with us. The passage of time has been a source of panic for me my entire life (though I bet you picked up on that from my record lololol), but now I’m feeling myself come to an interesting resting place with it: I’m finding my experiences are never really gone from me. So long as I remain connected to myself (no easy feat, mind you, but an essential one), I can draw upon them and look at them fondly, and feel compounding solace in what they’ve come to mean as my life has continued.

For now though I’m riding the changes and doing my best to grow comfortable with discomfort, to enjoy the process of becoming, despite its rather unsightly bits. But there have been some really glorious bits too: currently I’m knee deep in the transformative cheesy wonder that is Julia Cameron’s book/course The Artist’s Way, which I don’t think I could possibly recommend more emphatically! Reading it has been an extraordinary experience. If you’re unfamiliar, her aim with this book is to help the reader unblock creatively, and it requires a commitment to a few manageable daily and weekly tasks, as well as some weekly reading in the book. And gosh! It’s so encouraging and fulfilling and hopeful, and with substance! No baseless miraculous claims here; this is not your average self-help book, if you might allow me one sweeping generalization in this letter. If you’ve been on the fence about this one (I was for a long time), or if you’re looking to shake up your life a bit, or to heal or grow or question yourself, consider this my very aggressive endorsement.

Apart from that, I’ve just been hanging out with my family and doing some nature exploring and writing and painting and reading and digging up old family memories, and most of all gathering my wits a bit before I hit the road again! Which I suppose by the time you're reading this will be today!! I’m really really looking forward to this one; it’s mostly a solo tour, which will be really special, and I get to share evenings with some really spectacular musicians. And I’ll be going to Canada for the first time!! Here’s the complete list of dates--will I be coming by you? 

AB SUMMER TOUR.jpg

 

To touch on one very exciting tour element: I am absolutely over the moon to be going back to Alaska this summer! I’ll be the resident guitar teacher for the Roots Music sector of the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. There’ll be a few performances, and I’m teaching a handful of classes: beginning guitar, open tunings, fingerpicking, singing & playing at the same time, and a few singing classes! I can’t wait. <3

Well time for me to get going--lots to do before I skip town. I’ll admit, though, it’s been gut-wrenching (living in a fascist hellscape whoops I mean) to watch the horrific human rights atrocities currently being committed at the American borders, and to bear witness to the stunning lack of empathy perpetuated by this administration. It feels frivolous and insulting for me to talk about my little tour while the very real threat of ethnic cleansing and genocide, among other authoritarian cruelties, is weighing heavily upon the United States. (if you think I'm overexaggerating, send me an email. I would be HAPPY to have a discussion with you.) So in light of this I’ll leave you with a couple things:

Firstly, I strongly urge you to consider donating to the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, an organization that is doing vital work to reunite families that have been torn apart by this administration. If you aren’t in a position to donate, RAICES is also searching for volunteers (can be remote!) who speak Meso-American indigenous languages (for example, Zapotec, Nahua, Ma'am, Quich'e, Maya, Mixe, Mixteco--not Spanish!). If you or someone you know fit the bill, please consider this option; if not, please spread the word.

And lastly, the evils being perpetuated at this time are feeding on divisiveness, on othering. I would venture to say that this “us v. them” narrative, in all contexts, is the most imperative element to resist. (And by all contexts, I mean the obvious, but also that as much as I might reeeeally want to go to the people in my life who voted for tr*mp and let them friggin HAVE IT, it’s another instance of othering, and it feeds the fascists just as well as the rest of it.) In my mind this is why things like concerts and art and beauty are necessary right now. I would never claim that playing shows will alleviate these atrocities being committed, and I certainly wouldn’t use my artistic pursuits to justify sitting on my ass and doing nothing to resist. But here’s my claim: art is about sharing, and about connection: building bridges to the most isolated corners of our minds, and finding that we’re not alone after all. The more of that that exists in this world, the better.

With so much love,

AB

February/March 2018: Tour Recap and a Big Time Life Update

Hello hello!

Somehow it’s nearly the end of March already, and I do apologize for not writing sooner. I’ve been home from tour for a few weeks now, but I’m only just beginning to regain my wits once more. (Only to probably have them dashed away again shortly, but more on that later. Who needs wits, anyways?) These days I’ve been watching a rather abundant amount of movies (okay here are my two immediate recommendations: Coco and Call Me By Your Name. Get ready to CRY.) and, perhaps consequently, making a lot of popcorn at home. (Recently I had a popcorn seasoning breakthrough: paprika & brown sugar, my friends. You won’t be sorry.) But enough about the present for now. We must talk about February, which means we must talk about the tour!

Maybe we all saw this coming, but who can never be sure. I sure wasn’t! I do my best, but sometimes I have a hard time adjusting to new things, and can be picky and whatnot. So I didn’t know if I’d take to tour life. But my friends, I come bearing well researched and thoroughly experimented tidings: I am absolutely smitten with being on the road! It was quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Exhilarating, fulfilling, hard, emotional, beautiful, funny, intense, exhausting, expansive. I met wonderful people every single day, and there’s something about the intense brevity of tour-spacetime that makes every interaction more lasting and special than I could imagine otherwise. When I think back on that month I follow a long glowing string of fondnesses, each one just as remarkable as the last. New friends, old friends, beautiful trees and sunsets and skyscapes and landscapes, and oh man, so many wonderful dogs and cats. My cup runneth over, to say the least. And getting a small taste of what it feels like to live in so many different parts of the country was illuminating in a way I can’t fully verbalize. All of us have a more minimized conception of the world than we’d like to believe, you know? No matter who you are or how much you’ve seen or done, there’s always room to expand. And nothing more effectively rids us of our bubbles and our blindnesses than travelling. Seeing (and physically driving to!) so many new places and meeting so many new people gave me such a rich and varied and reverent perspective of this huge place I call home, which I think now more than ever is paramount to maintain.  

And to have MUSIC be the THING propelling us from place to place — ah! I could weep. I’m so grateful. I’d never been to a lot of the places we stopped on the road, nevermind that I’d never played music in them. But somehow, folks always came out, and we got to share these songs with new people every night. (You included, perhaps! It was really so lovely to meet you.) Every show was beautiful in its own special way, and I really can’t wait to get back out there again. But to stave off the tour addiction, I’ll settle from some good ol’ nostalgia and show you a couple pictures from our journey.

 ya girl &amp; some barrels at Hardywood Brewery in Richmond, VA. Photo by Avery Ballotta

ya girl & some barrels at Hardywood Brewery in Richmond, VA. Photo by Avery Ballotta

 at The Root Note in La Crosse, WI. Photo by Taylor Donskey.

at The Root Note in La Crosse, WI. Photo by Taylor Donskey.

 at The Oxbow Hotel in Eau Claire, WI. Photo by Luong Huynh.

at The Oxbow Hotel in Eau Claire, WI. Photo by Luong Huynh.

 at The Red Room in Chicago, IL. Photo by Tom Hack

at The Red Room in Chicago, IL. Photo by Tom Hack

 A (by no means comprehensive) collection of some of the furry (&amp; finny) friends we met on the road.&nbsp;

A (by no means comprehensive) collection of some of the furry (& finny) friends we met on the road. 

Avery (my bandmate/partner/copilot extraordinaire) and I spent a lot of time in the car, which of course means a lot of time listening to stuff. In heavy rotation was this amazing record by Juana Molina; I discovered her from an amazing article in She Shreds Magazine, the cover of which she graced this past month in accompaniment. (She Shreds is a really fabulous publication that champions women guitar & bass players, and I’d highly recommend checking it out.) You know that feeling of reading/hearing someone’s words and finding that they’re speaking fluently and definitively to points that you feel so strongly in your heart, but that you’ve never had the capacity to verbalize so perfectly? That’s how I felt reading this interview with Juana Molina — she effortlessly embodies so much that I aspire to in my art, so I knew right away that I’d love her music. She rules, and she has the quality I most admire in musicians: no ego. (Maybe I’ll throw my ego manifesto in a letter one day. Maybe.) Also, her instagram account is simply delightful, if you too indulge in the dystopian hellscape that is instagram. (I’m kidding. kind of.)

Another star player in our car soundtrack was a podcast so well done and entertaining I could not recommend quickly or highly enough. Cocaine & Rhinestones: The History of Country Music in the Twentieth Century, hosted by Tyler Mahan Coe. Run don’t walk, my friends. The stories presented here are so thoughtful and well researched that regardless of your interest in the music, it’s worth a listen. But if you’re a fan of country like me, it’s even sweeter. And! Each episode has a blog post in accompaniment, with a full transcript and links for all the music he references. So thorough! So great! 

Well, that’s the tour update. These days, I’m buzzing about a bit frantically tending to some general loose ends of life, because. . . I’m moving out of Boston at the end of March. (!!!!!!) It was a rather sudden decision, and I’m still feeling quite emotional about it, but I’ve lived in Boston for a little over five and a half years, and I think a change will be good. As for where I’m going, who knows! I caught the travel bug in a big way while being on tour. I’m spending the month of April with my family in Michigan, where I’ll be hangin with them and writing a lot of music and hopefully tackling some projects that have been burning in my craft queue. But more on that in the next letter I’m sure.

I do have some shows in the east in May though, so I suppose I’ll be back before you know it. Some highlights: on May 5 I’ll be back in Burlington, VT at Light Club Lamp Shop with Lyle Brewer! I fell quite madly in love with Burlington when we were there on tour, so I really can’t wait to be back. And I’m so honored to be sharing the night with Lyle; he’s a phenomenal musician and it’ll be a great show! And to keep the great show streak alive, I’m also playing with my friends Honeysuckle (aka THE BEST BAND IN THE WORLD, have you heard their most recent record yet??) at The Burren in Somerville on May 11. I’m a lucky gal to get to play with all these wonderful people!

Well I should get going pretty soon — lots to do before I skip town, not the least of which is getting everything ready for my show next week. Back at my favorite haunt, Club Passim, with my gal pal Ellie Buckland. (Another great show! Will the joyful pairings never cease? I hope not!) I’m looking forward to this one for many reasons, but especially because I finally get to live my friggin dream of having my backing band be a STRING QUARTET. I got to do it on the record, of course, but never live. Until now!

Before I go though, can I give a quick shoutout to the Somerville Public Library, where I’ve written most of this letter? And all libraries in general? I don’t have to get into my “reclaiming public space” manifesto right here and right now (what can I say, I’m a manifesto kind of gal), but damn. Libraries are powerful. Anyone of any level of opportunity can come here and access a GLORIOUS WEALTH of information. At the Somerville Library, for instance, besides your typical book/movie/internet fare, you can rent out a friggin BIRDING KIT or a TELESCOPE or a pass to one of Boston’s RAD museums. How beautiful is that? Libraries so directly reflect the communities they serve; it’s our job to value and support and fight for them. Viva La Library!

Alright, anyways. To the string writing cave!

Love,

AB

 

January 2018: Tour Dates, a New Video, and Some Good Ol' Reflectin

Howdy folks!

Well shucks, it’s been a long time coming, hasn’t it? I’ve been collecting email addresses at gigs for years, and I’ve never sent out a single whiff of a note. UNTIL TODAY. To be honest, the whole promotional email thing wigs me out; I don’t like receiving them, and as my track record makes evident I most certainly do not like sending them. However, to put it lightly, I’ve been feeling simply dreadful about social media of late. It makes me real sad, and on good days I rarely use it. But in consequence, I find myself on a bit of an island, disconnected from you fine people, and that’s not what I want in the slightest! I’m so grateful for the connectability that this technology affords us, and this is my attempt to transmute that into a format that does not burden my heart so. (I could dedicate an entire letter to this sentiment alone, but I’ll refrain. Instead might I direct you to this altogether illuminating piece about the subject written for Rookie Magazine by Tavi Gevinson, who’s a gem and quite simply a gift to this generation.)

Henceforth I’ll be drawing up a onceish-monthly letter, and if you so choose, you can have this shit zoom directly into your email inbox. If that’s not your jam, but you want to get the update, no worries! I’ll post them on my website too, for you to peruse at your leisure. I’ve been a lifelong fan of letter-writing (thank you, summer camp!) but have been feeling a profound lack of pen-palhood in my life. So to that end, these will most likely read like a letter from a friend. I’ll ramble a bit about what I’m doing or reading or listening to or eating perhaps, and sprinkle in some news here and there. You’re of course in no way obligated to respond, but if something tickles your fancy and you feel inclined to reach out, please do! My main goal with these is to forge an open line of communication that I’ve been struggling to maintain with social media.

Whew! Enough of that. It’s a new year! 2017 was. . . yowza. Quite something, to say the least. And while I won’t waste time waxing philosophical/ throwin down a HOT TAKE about the times that we are better off without, I do want to draw mild attention to one aspect of last year, the thread that tied my entire experience of it together, the thing that was essentially my life raft amid the terror of everything: the record! My first one! I spent pretty much the entirety of last year bringing Brightness into the world: arranging it, recording it, having existential crises about it, doing all the little behind the scenes things that transform twelve .wav files on a computer to a THING that PEOPLE can HEAR. Despite the pretty bonkers rollercoaster of emotions that surrounded the creation process (This is great! Wait, I hate this more than I’ve ever hated anything! I am garbage! Alright this is ok now I guess? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?) when the time finally came for the thing to be born, I felt proud of it, and happy, and so overwhelmingly grateful. If you’ve taken the time to get acquainted with it, I can’t thank you enough.

But best not dwell on the past too long, yeah? It’s 2018 my friends! And I’m starting off the year by taking this record out on the road for a big ol’ friggin TOUR!!!! It’s already a couple weeks away and gee willikers am I excited. And slightly terrified, to be honest. But that’s just the way with new things, yes? I’m recalling now an utterly fantastic piece from Brainpickings (Legitimately the most wonderful corner of the internet. If you’re not already familiar, get hip!) that explores the value of an intimacy with fear through the writing of Pema Chödrön, a Tibetan Buddhist nun and teacher. Here’s an excerpt:

"Fear is a universal experience. Even the smallest insect feels it. We wade in the tidal pools and put our finger near the soft, open bodies of sea anemones and they close up. Everything spontaneously does that. It’s not a terrible thing that we feel fear when faced with the unknown. It is part of being alive, something we all share. We react against the possibility of loneliness, of death, of not having anything to hold on to. Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

If we commit ourselves to staying right where we are, then our experience becomes very vivid. Things become very clear when there is nowhere to escape."

Highly recommend this piece in its entirety, read it here!

ANYWAYS. Despite the little thunderbolts of fear every now and again, the overwhelming feeling I have is THRILL. I’m going to so many places I’ve never been (Philly! Richmond! Chapel Hill! La Crosse! Eau Claire! Toledo! Columbus! Burlington!) and visiting places I love but where I’ve never gotten to play music. (Brooklyn! Bloomington! Ann Arbor! Chicago, my friggin hometown!!) Man. Dreamy. Here are the dates--I hope I’m coming by a spot near you! If you've got any recommendations for bookstores, Indian food, museums, some (gluten-free, sadly) deliciousness, karaoke, general COOL HAPPENINGS, etc., I'd be most delighted to hear. 

Quick note about one particular tour date, that isn’t really a tour date at all! On February 1st, I’m playing an Office Session at Leesta Vall Sound Recordings. What does that mean? Well! It’s pretty nifty. I’ll let you hear it directly from the horse’s mouth:

"Leesta Vall Office Sessions are live musical performances that take place in our office/studio in Brooklyn, NY.  Each performance is cut live in realtime directly to a 7” lathe cut vinyl record, resulting in a truly unique one-of-a-kind musical artifact. Each individual vinyl record contains its own rendition of a song that only its purchaser will have/hear….a very special thing."

When I read that I was like UM. I have JUST the song for this. . . Time Capsule! So, if you want a direct-cut-to-vinyl-just-for-you version of Time Capsule, I have good news for you. You can preorder one here! I can of course only make so many of them, which means that supply is limited as heck, so if you’re into it a preorder is probably the move.

On that front, I recently put up a wee video of me performing Time Capsule in the studio last year. (holy shit. . . almost a year ago already! zoinks!) It was the first take and thus wasn’t the version we ended up using, but I find it special nonetheless.  For your listening pleasure! 

As for the rest of the year, who knows! Hopefully more touring, and writing. Already I’ve begun finding little musical sprouts springing forth in my heart, so I’m sure record number two isn’t too far away. I’ve been playing much more piano these days (my first instrument, though we’ve had a strained relationship in the past, but we’re patching things up!), and, you guys, cello!! I’m very bad at it still because I’m a bowed-string-baby and am teaching myself, but I am in instrument love. And I’ve already started writing on it! So while I can’t say anything for certain about the next THING, I can hypothesize, given the nature of my musical days, that it’ll be pianoy and celloy and droney and melancholy, probably.

Other than that, I’ve been combatting the wintry glum by making lots of soup (here’s my go to recipe, it’s out of this world delicious) and listening to as much music as possible (here’s my favorite record to come out in 2017) and from time to time analyzing some Beethoven quartets (here is my favorite and also what I would probably like to be played at my funeral) and occasionally marathoning all of Star Wars. I’ve now seen The Last Jedi four times in theaters, but who’s counting? Also, if you haven’t taken advantage of the fact that The Joy of Painting with Bob Ross is on Netflix, do your heart a favor and get on that.

I hope that the winter is being kind to you, and that you’re finding comfort wherever you need it. Hope to catch up with you soon.

Love,

AB