Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
It’s a melodic, early morning on the front porch of my log cabin here in Kentucky. The air gently resonates with a magical, peaceful symphony of sounds ... sunrise is nature’s musical awakening, an earth-song that starts the day.
Henry David Thoreau, my favorite writer, said it best,
“The morning is the awakening hour ... Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets emit their music at sunrise. To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
And so, in this calm and tranquil setting, I sit in a wicker rocking chair on my grand front porch with my cup of cinnamon coffee and begin scribbling thoughts in this old ledger. The irony of writing for MOTHER EARTH NEWS is not lost on me.
I’ve been a fan of Mother Earth News since I was a kid growing up along the Hudson River in upstate New York. I was the one who would plant and then harvest the big family garden. My uncle subscribed to Mother Earth News as a gardening gift for me. It was through these pages the concept of how to merge the earth, nature, community and home with music began to form, albeit in the most clumsy way possible.
As a young teenager I was introduced to the partnership of folk music and community by my neighbor. He was a pleasant fellow, an odd older guy who claimed to be a musician but played the banjo. To a young rock’n’roller like me that was an odd and strange contradiction. Real musicians wouldn’t be caught dead playing a banjo, after all. Plus the guy was kinda weird. Anytime there was a big storm in the area he would show up at the school yard with an ax so he could help chop up the fallen trees and branches.
That was creepy. To us, anyway.
The week I graduated high school my friend calls me up late one night with a fun idea.
“Dude, you wanna work at a radio station?”
“Sure dude,” says I.
So I pile everything I own into an old Toyota with 300,000 miles on it and drive 44 hours straight from upstate New York to Laredo, Texas on the Mexican border to start my new part-time minimum-wage job on the midnight DJ shift at KVOZ-AM. (You can do that when you’re 18 because you’re immortal. The reason I drove without stopping is because the car was an automatic but had a bad starter and, well ... you get the idea.)
A few months later, about three in the morning, I had to pull an oldies song from the selection file and happened by chance to choose a record by Roger McGuinn and The Byrds called “Turn, Turn, Turn.” As the song played over the air I noticed on the information card the tune was written by my crazy neighbor.
“Ooooooh ... so that’s who Pete Seeger is.”
Yes, until that serendipitous moment I had no idea I was was living next to folk music royalty, the legend who gave us Where Have All The Flowers Gone, Turn, Turn, Turn, If I Had A Hammer, and more. Pete was best friends with Woody Guthrie and Paul Robeson. He introduced great songs to the world like This Land Is Your Land and We Shall Overcome. He helped Bob Dylan and Joan Baez find their audiences and rattled the walls of Carnage Hall with his group, The Weavers.
Realizing who Pete was became sort of a musical evangelical moment for me. By the time that three-minute record ended I decided I wanted to be a folksinger. I soon left Laredo and moved to a small Appalachian hamlet called Mousie, Kentucky and began traveling up and down the hollers with my guitar and banjo, learning songs and having scores of front-porch hootenannies with my neighbors.
Within weeks of beginning my romantic musical adventure, Mother Earth News entered the picture again. A neighbor had a stack of back issues of the magazine and, after hearing me whine about the lack of entertainment opportunities appropriate for a young musician newly planted in the hollers of the mountains like myself, they thought some proper reading material might be helpful. I came home one day to find a stack of Mothers waiting for me on my porch steps.
Reading the magazines was fun and I was fascinated by articles about growing strawberries in an old rain barrel, French intensive gardening, bootstrap business ideas and raising chickens.
And then ... there it was.
Somewhere in the middle of the pile I pull out a back issue and it had HIM on the front cover. Pete Seeger, my banjo-picking, ax-wielding neighbor was the feature story and Plowboy Interview of the month. I pored over every word about his environmental ideas, the Clearwater project and folk music. The whole ambient vision of how the path between music, community and nature connected like a white-hot lightning bolt through my head.
I closed the pages and felt my blood boil with energy. The first thing I did was create a project I called “Earth Concerts,” a concert set about nature, home and songs that encouraged the audience to pick up litter and take care of their communities.
It worked, and over the course of the next few years I performed nearly 2,500 Earth Concerts attended by 3 million people in colleges, high schools, county fairs and libraries in 14 states across America. And that was just the beginning of this passionate journey I was on to use music for something better than selling records, to play songs for reasons greater than becoming a star.
And now it seems I have come full circle. Here I am on this quiet Kentucky morning, writing on the front porch of my log cabin about organic music, nature and community for the very magazine that helped me start my folk music career.
And that’s what I hope this series of articles will be about — the wonderful, passionate world of acoustic songs, homemade music, front -porch concerts and neighbors singing together. I want to share ideas and experiences that will encourage you to use your music in special and effective ways. My hope is to share these ideas so they become real in your musical world, your front porches and living rooms, your neighborhoods and your home towns.
Together we will take the spotlight away from concert halls and arenas and focus instead on the most brilliant, important and beautiful stage in the world:
Your own living room couch.
folksinger, tree hugger, log cabin firstname.lastname@example.org