I’ve been asked many times why I do what I do. So, I have had a lot of opportunities to ruminate on that. I’m not sure that I have a concrete answer, partially because there are so many reasons why I do what I do. It is a confusing swirl of why. There are all of these story arcs, and they weave up who I am.
More and more I’ve thought that “connection” has something to do with it. The other night I joked that “I was born and raised in Mitchell County, but I can’t be from there until my family’s been there for seven generations.” Fact of the matter is that my people don’t go back for generations upon generations in that place, and no matter how I talk, or what I wear, or how many old songs I learn, I’ll always be one foot on the outside. My people came from off. Granted, they came and dug in and fixed up an old farmhouse and helped their neighbors and community. We became a part of that dense kinship network.
When I got to college, I realized very quickly how much Mitchell County was a part of me. And, I began to celebrate it and think about it. I grew up thinking I had more in common with urban intellectual types than I did with my best friends. Yeah, I was somewhat wrong about that. Music was a way in for me, or a way back in for me.
Somewhere before and around this time I started going to Cloudland Baptist, and I found love, compassion, music-straight-from-the-soul, life-changing Casseroles (oh why did I think about this on an empty stomach), and salvation. Turned out my 1% of Roger Williams DNA was still a burning baptist, despite growing up in a household that was more spiritual than religious. I was baptized in a freezing cold creek and I wear that memory like a badge of honor.
I really threw myself into learning as much as I could from the people around me. I might have overdone it. I don’t think it’s fair to say that I “put it on,” just because I was sincere in it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to try to appreciate who I am. As Ray would say, “I is who I is, and I couldn’t get no izzer.” The weird artist kid who grew up in Mitchell County is me. I firmly believe that it’s helped me in life to have one foot here, and one foot there.
I hope it’s going to help me bring people together, and wow, do we need that now more than ever.