We are all just now recovering from all the fun LAST weekend in Lexington, as a passel of pickers, singers, dancers, poets, merry-makers, and general yee-haw revelers descended on Lexington for our annual old-time music event at Artsplace. A good time was had by all, and we're already making plans for next year. The inimitable callers Phil Jamison and Randy Wilson were both on hand, and I love this picture by Jo Mackby that shows what a great time we all had swinging to the smooth calls and hep tunes!
I had a great time teaching a clogging and flatfooting workshops with Julie Shepherd-Powell and AP Powell for the Bluegrass Ceili Academy workshops in Lexington recently!
We have been having a blast playing around the region, and are putting together some overseas tours, too! We are happy to be spreading the traditions of our beloved Kentucky with audiences far and wide. Here is a recent picture from our performance at the University of Kentucky Appalachia in the Bluegrass series!
Granny & The Bees
"A swarm of bees in May is worth a load of hay."
This is a suburban tree, in a suburban yard, in the suburban neighborhood where my Appalachian family moved after my dad lost his job with the coal company. This is my sweet little granny, who never stopped working her mountain magic even after we moved away from all that we loved. She still dried shuck beans in the back window of our car, still raised tomatoes in the back yard, and still saved corn silk for tea (good for the bladder, she said) and corn shucks to make dolls out of. But today I want to tell you about something she did that seemed so magical to me that if I hadn't been there, I wouldn't believe it had really happened.
It was early May, and Granny had been outside puttering around doing something. (She didn't believe in idle hands.) But then she came and got me and told me to come into the front yard, next to the tree pictured here. In her hand, she held a big metal spoon and a metal dishpan. All of a sudden, she commenced to hollering and carrying on, beating the dishpan with her spoon and making a tremendous racket. The sound-song she made reminded me faintly of the singing you hear at a Pow-Wow. I wondered, briefly, if she had lost her mind, and I am certain that the neighbors thought so.
But then I noticed that bees were flying toward us, LOTS of bees. I started to get nervous, and more and more kept coming. Pretty soon, she was standing in the very middle of a swarm of buzzing, humming bodies, her wild song luring them in like she was the queen bee herself. She picked up a stick, then, and began to beat on the tree trunk, a slow, deep, steady beat. She said, "We'll get them to land here."
Sure enough, drawn to the rhythm, they started landing on the tree branch, until it was covered in a pulsing, seething coating of bees.
"If we wanted to catch a new swarm for a hive, this is how we'd do it. They'll go anywhere the queen goes", she said as she reached into the middle of all those bees and extracted a queen, holding it gently in her cupped hand. Sure enough, as she walked away from the tree, carrying the queen, the bees started to follow her as if she were the bee pied piper.
But we didn't have a hive, there in Richmond, so she let the queen go and off they all flew to look elsewhere for a new home.
My grandmother could see that the world I was living in was different than the one she had known for much of her life, but it was important to her to make sure I had a range of the skills that had kept her and generations of my ancestors before her alive during a time when stores and "brought-on" goods were not readily available. Over the years, she set my young hands to sewing, gardening, canning, caring for livestock, saving seeds, drying, pickling, cooking, and many more useful skills, "just in case". I'm so grateful I got to spend so much time with her, and that she sang all the while, giving me the gift of music on top of it all!
I'm excited to announce that I received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, for the creation of a new feminist song plus choreography, and I'll get to work with the fabulous Teresa Tomb of Rakadu Gypsy Dance. I'm writing an original ballad exploring feminist themes through an Appalachian lens, and then Teresa and I will choreograph and create a video to go with the song. I can't wait for all the fabulousness, and I'm grateful for the KFW's role in supporting feminist art in our state!
I've been having a blast learning new steps and creating fusion dance with my new niece, Paulina Vazquez. (My nephew has excellent taste!) We have been collaborating as part of the Cornbread & Tortillas project.
I'm happy to announce that my apprentice, Susan Howell, and I have received a Folk & Traditional Arts Fellowship from the Kentucky Arts Council, where I'll be sharing some flatfoot dance traditions from the mountains with her over the course of the next year---the FIRST-EVER award for traditional percussive dance! Photo by Zoey Raven.
So, my mother didn't know anything about making albums per se, but something she DID teach me helped me get through a recent challenge we encountered while making the latest Zoe Speaks CD. See, we found out a few weeks ago that there had been a hard drive crash involving our project, and that data had been lost. It turned out that not all of it was gone, but we were set back several months in having to re-do a lot of our harmony parts and instrumental solos. I felt SO frustrated and put-upon, but after a while a memory surfaced. My mother was a brilliant seamstress (just like HER mother), and she made sure that I learned how to sew when I was growing up. She started me on easier patterns, and we worked our way up. At some point we graduated to making a dress, which required that I learn how to sew in sleeves. And since it was the eighties, those poofy sleeves were popular and I had to sew in GATHERED sleeves, which are especially fussy. Well, even the most experienced tailor can get flummoxed when sewing in a sleeve--you have to turn the garment AND sleeve inside out, and basically sew inside a small tunnel of fabric. There are several points where things can go wrong, and when I was first learning, they often did. I would diligently sew all evening, get the sleeve all pressed and pinned, sew it in, and......turn the dress right side out for the moment of truth, only to find out that I had screwed it up, with a seam on the outside, or the wrong side of the fabric facing outward. Out would come the seam ripper, along with some tears of frustration, and I'd have to take out every stitch I'd sewn and re-do the whole painstaking process. At some point in my feelings of self-pity over our musical setback, I felt like mom was at my elbow, reminding me that sometimes you just have to get out the seam ripper and do it over again. I don't know why this happened, but I am grateful for the real-world lessons my mom gave me that help me to be strong and resilient in the face of challenges, and, just like with that tacky dress I made back in 1986, I am DETERMINED to finish the project and make it better than it was before. Thanks, mom.
I'm so excited to be putting the finishing touches on the NEW album with my band, Zoe Speaks! We have been hard at work in the studio and are very much looking forward to sharing our music with the world in a whole new way! Stay tuned and check back here for updates, or join my MAILING LIST to have the news delivered to you!
Do you ever have so much going on that you don't know whether you're coming or going? That's what the last few months have been like for me, but I have loved it all because I have seen firsthand that no matter how much craziness might be going on in the world, there are still SO MANY goodhearted people who want to come together and sing, dance, love, learn, and stand up for all that is right and beautiful in this world. I will just let the pictures here speak for themselves about all of the wonderful projects I've been lucky to participate in!