We were in San Francisco for a house concert on Sunday, and with some daylight still left, we drove out to Ocean Beach before heading home. When we arrived, the beach was so windy it was nearly empty. If we squinted, we could just see some windsurfers braving the swells.
"Blustering forth," I said, as we set out across the sand to face the stiff headwinds on foot, which caused us to laugh. Though blustering forth, doing it anyway, is kind of what living seems to take these days.
I saw someone recently post “no one is OK right now,” and had to agree. I don’t feel OK, even if, as has been the case for the past couple of years, I've been able to count my blessings very easily. Life feels especially turbulent, inside and out. Ukraine. The crappy treatment of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Ice shelves collapsing. Another sudden death of a too-young rock and roller.
And personally, something about this re-entry period has felt as challenging as its felt joyful. Toggling between the expansiveness required of going back into the world and my more pedestrian, pandemic routines has shown me where I'm thin-skinned and less resilient. I’ve felt a bit whiplash from the recent bout of first-time-in-two-years experiences, be the gigs or classes or social engagements. Compassion along with creative and faith practices (continue to) help ... and maintaining equilibrium has really felt like threading the needle these days.
Live music, both playing it and going out to hear other folks, has provided a much-need balm for all these edges. Especially going to shows that bridge the gap between where we’ve been — inside, at home! — and the public sphere, with grace. Fortunately, several local venues, and no small number of musicians, were able to hang on these past couple of years, despite the challenges to the form (talk about stiff winds!), to offer just such the ticket.
Last weekend, we went to see HowellDevine, a blues trio consisting of drums, guitar/harmonica and upright bass, who were celebrating the release of their latest record with a show at The Sound Room, a 72-seat listening room in Oakland. Kwame knows Pete, the drummer, from his earliest days in San Francisco when they were all scrappy young men, and nearly a decade ago, we were pleased to run into him playing with the recently-formed HD at Speisekammer in Alameda. They’ve a great, dynamic, groovy sound (one of their recordings is named Jumps, Boogies and Wobbles) and we’ve really missed seeing them live.
The whole night at The Sound Room had a certain looseness to it, partly due to the genre, and partly because I think everyone was just so relieved to go to a show with real live people again. The band amiably sparred with one another and occasionally addressed people individually from the stage. By the close of the show, everyone was bopping in their seats with Cheshire-cat smiles.
This past Saturday, I made it to the Back Room, another mid-sized club, for “Sofapalooza,” featuring a trio of excellent singer-songwriters — Jill Rogers, Karry Walker and Val Esway — trading songs, harmonizing and sitting in with one another. They’d transformed the stage into a living room set, complete with a couch (and excellent mic setup), providing a perfect foundation to showcase their warm, heartfelt performances and musical camaraderie.
Another friend transformed his once-sloped and unruly San Francisco backyard into an expansive patio garden space, perfect for doing double-duty as a house-concert venue. Sunday afternoon, after taping an upcoming episode of the Hangover Sessions for Lost Church Radio, we hied it over the bridge to catch the inaugural performance at Dan’s new space by The Brushfoot Migration, a collaboration between Lia Rose, Julian Müller and Oscar Westesson.
Three-part harmony and a convivial crowd of music lovers is a solid recipe for a good time. Upright bass and birdsong. Laughter. Sound and vibration. We were all like plants in a window turning toward the sun. For another moment, despite headwinds of all kinds, things felt right in the world.
I have exciting news to share: You can now read Bird in the Tree in the new Substack app for iPhone.
With the app, you’ll have a dedicated Inbox for my Substack and any others you subscribe to. New posts will never get lost in your email filters, or stuck in spam. Longer posts will never cut-off by your email app. Comments and rich media will all work seamlessly. Overall, it’s a big upgrade to the reading experience.
The Substack app is currently available for iOS. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can join the Android waitlist here.