2014 was one of the fullest, most roller-coaster years of my life. I seem, to my own surprise, to have built a strong facebook community (I think in no small part due to Art Heffron’s brilliant and glamorous photos of me), and I run into folks often who say they’ve been following me that way and it’s great to see me doing so well/living so glamorously/being so successful. There were lots of successes in 2014, and I am so grateful for all of them. But it was also a hard year in a lot of ways. This is an account of it all, a reminder to me of the major things I’ve both been through and accomplished this year, and a reminder to everyone that Facebook is never a complete picture of a life, perhaps not always the best space to support us and help us feel connected at our most vulnerable. We need our friends up close and in person for that. So, without further ado…my 2014, in a several-pages-long nutshell.
In January, I rehearsed for my birthday show with my band and my friend Irene, who put a dance together with me, moved from Boulder to a new house in Denver, started driving for Lyft, toured the Southwest, and worked to book and promote my first West Coast tour.
In February, I played my first birthday show. It was a blast. I paid my band without losing money, a first. Without making any, either. I toured the West Coast with Art Heffron in tow playing living room concerts and shows in Seattle, Portland, McMinnville, Oakland, and LA; got a partial sponsorship from Lyft to help with tour expenses, lost my renter’s insurance, had $7000 of gear stolen from our rental car in San Francisco that we were not insured for as of 3 days prior to the theft, experienced an outpouring of community support and raised over $4000 in community donations.
In March, I returned to Denver, bought a new laptop thanks to my community, applied for and received extra gear-recovery support from MusiCares, made and lived off of about $600, applied for and was approved for food stamps, and traveled to Austin, Texas with Immersive Records to play at South by Southwest with a full band. I met a lot of new industry folks and rubbed elbows with a lot of familiar Colorado faces who suddenly looked at my music in a way they never had when we were both in Colorado. We planned to release the new album in the summer.
In April, I began picking up shifts as a nanny, continued driving for Lyft, and began working as a substitute teacher with a school where a friend was teaching at the time. I really and truly couldn’t afford to keep a horse anymore, no matter which way I looked at it, so I said a painful goodbye to the mustang mare I’d adopted from the BLM in 2003 and spent 11 years developing a deep bond with, and sent her to my best friend’s riding stable across the country in Georgia. I discovered that the more produce and unprocessed dry goods you buy, the further that $100 in food stamps will get you. I cooked a lot. Once in a while I bought meat as an expensive “treat”. One of my friends told me that the stuff I was living was the stuff of Kerouac novels, and wasn’t it great that when I “made it” I would have a great story to tell about being really poor. This was oddly comforting to me.
In May, I was a finalist in the Tucson Folk Festival Songwriting Contest. I traveled to Tucson, Arizona to play at the Folk Festival with my sister on violin and harmony vocals. I played in Denver at the Northwest Denver Folk Festival at the Oriental Theater. I was asked to be part of an ad campaign for Lyft. I flew out to LA, sat in a make-up chair for the first time, participated in an all-day photo shoot, and ended up on billboards and buses in Denver and San Diego billed as, (God knows why) a “country singer and Lyft driver”. “Country” or not, it was still pretty cool.
In June, I was asked to be part of the 4 Locals x Locals Festival at Colorado’s renowned Mishawaka Ampitheater. I led a songwriting camp for middle schoolers. I made $50 stretch for two weeks while I waited for three very late paychecks. It became apparent that even though I had paid a videographer $1200 at the end of 2013 to shoot a music video in New York City, I was likely not going to be receiving any usable footage from him. We planned to release the new album in the fall.
In July I played at Denver’s Underground Music Showcase and a magical under-the-underground backyard show. Many of the local musicians who played the showcase were paid less than what they had been in past years, or nothing at all in an attempt at restructuring the festival that relied on big corporate sponsorships to draw in bigger national acts yet paid locals nothing, and donated “proceeds” from ticket sales to charity, all the while making new charities necessary to support starving artists. I taught summer songwriting programs for K-2 students through Think 360 Arts. I led another middle school songwriting camp and a high-school songwriting camp with Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop. I was astounded by my students. I saved money for the first time all year. My food stamps ran out and I didn’t re-apply.
In August I was invited to open for an intimate acoustic pre-Red Rocks show with the lead singer of a famous band. It was cancelled the morning of. I was asked by a big venue to open for Colbie Caillat, so I waited on the edge of my seat for three weeks for approval from her management. I started booking my fall tours.
In September I was told Colbie’s management had decided to bring their own opener four days before the show. The By Locals 4 Locals Festival was also cancelled. In one week that I had expected to play two of the biggest shows of the year, I dressed up in hot pink and spent my nights running a carnival booth at a baseball game to make extra cash. I spent several days too despondent to get out of my pajamas. What pulled me out of the funk was realizing that there’s no end in sight, that if I want to continue pursuing music I will experience countless similar disappointments and cancellations. That there is no magic number of “Well, now that I’ve been disappointed X amount of times, THIS one will surely work out,” or, “now that I’ve paid my dues and played for the ‘exposure’ X amount of times I will always be able to ask for a fair price.” Becoming a little bit more of a cynic saved me from utter despair. I wrote lots of emails to lots of venues and artists’ management teams and heard back a few yeses, a lot of nos, and even more dead silence. I put a West Coast tour together. I spent weeks writing booking emails trying to pull an East Coast tour together and ended up with only two dates I felt good about. I decided to go anyway so I could visit family and friends. I worked lots of hours and saved up a little more money. I spent some of my savings on a backyard video shoot with my band so I could have something to release, something representative of how much I’d grown as a musician, something to reward the unwavering patience of my fans in their long, long wait for my album. We planned to release the new album in the winter.
In October I traveled to the East Coast and played a show at Ashland Coffee and Tea. I met up with friend & Immersive Records co-owner Steve Vidaic in Charlotte on his tour with Citizen Cope and got to hang out on his tour bus after the show. I played a last-minute set in Nashville. I dropped my CD off at a booking agency I’d been following. I got to visit my best childhood friend and my horse in Georgia, rode with them both in a hunter pace, and won a ribbon for being one of two adults foolish enough to enter the fastest division over fences. I played a show in Atlanta that I poured my heart into promoting. It was magical until the end of the night when I was told that the venue hadn’t met their production costs and none of the acts on the bill would be getting paid a cent. Every ticket sold went to pay the overpriced door guy. I visited a college friend I hadn’t seen in seven years on her farm in Alabama. Her young daughter brushed my hair with a pair of pliers and she taught me how to milk a cow. I was glad I went. I ran out of savings.
In November I released the first of the Backyard Sessions videos. I saw that Seryn was playing at one of my favorite Denver venues so I wrote them and told them the story of how my conversation with one of the band members at the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest last year had kicked my butt into tour-booking, day-job-quitting gear and they said yes to my request to open the show and get Strings & Wood Concerts onboard to squeeze in a 5 Year Anniversary Celebration just before year’s end. I toured the West Coast. I left worrying that I’d come back broke and in need of government assistance again. I bull-headedly decided to donate 10% of my CD sales to charity anyway and fulfill a dream I’d had of giving back to organizations that empower youth through the arts. I played shows in Provo, Utah; Sacramento, San Francisco, Santa Rosa, San Jose, Paso Robles, & Pismo Beach, California; Sedona & Scottsdale, Arizona; and Albuquerque, New Mexico. I went to see Amanda Palmer on her book tour in Los Angeles. I had one night where I made zero dollars, but mostly I came out a little bit on top. I donated $60 to youth arts organizations. After food and gas and tour expenses and donating, I came home with about $500 for my three months of round-the-clock work writing booking emails and calling venues and sending out press releases and making posters and practicing my set and driving to all the shows and playing the shows and sleeping on the couches and guest beds of friends and brand-new acquaintances. I started the MvL Countdown to CD Release Faceoff with Megan Burtt and we posted our first video announcing the contest while I was staying in her brother’s apartment in San Francisco. We didn’t get robbed this time.
In December, I wrote a Christmas song. I learned a cover from Megan’s new album. I posted videos of both to youtube for the MvL Faceoff. I lost a challenge, I won a challenge. I won a $2500 career advancement award to promote my new album. I started writing letters to companies asking for sponsorships to match the grant. I rehearsed and made a bunch of new merchandise – DVDs and hand-screenprinted T-shirts. I sold one of each. I played the show at the Soiled Dove with Seryn. It was amazing. It got a great review in the Denver Westword. After my band was taken care of, I made $50. That’s if you don’t think about the money I spent making new merch for the show. Let’s just not think about it, because if you don’t think about it, it was such a beautiful, beautiful night. I found out that my album was finally deemed “finished” by Mike and Steve at Immersive Records and ready to be sent to mastering. We sat down, for the 5th or 6th time, to plan a timeline and make God laugh. We planned to release the new album in the spring. I spent a good amount of time feeling grateful for all the successes that lend to a feeling of end-of-year momentum. I thought about my goals for next year, which include releasing the album, playing at Red Rocks, touring Ireland, taking a band on tour, opening for a few of my musical heroes, finding a booking agent & publicist, and becoming a vessel that money is attracted to. You know what they say, if you want to find a good partner, first you have to become one.
There are, of course, lots of things missing from this account. Family things, both good and really, really tough. Healing-from-past-relationship things. Navigating-a-new-relationship things and taking-boyfriend-on-tour not once but three times things and discovering a level of support for my career that I didn’t know was possible in a partner things. Overall this year, I thought about money a lot. I worried about money a lot. I didn’t have money a lot. I felt bitter a lot. And grateful almost as much. I tried hard to stop and celebrate every little success. I worked hard, all the time. I worked till midnight or two AM lots of nights. The woman who approved my food stamps asked if I worked 20-30 hours a week and her mouth hung open when I said more like 60. I committed. I started to feel like I had figured out how to do this for myself and take satisfaction in it and know that it’s worth something even when I don’t receive the kind of validation or sustenance from it that I am looking for. I played 54 shows this year. And I may not be ending the year with deep pockets but I have energy to keep going. The passion for it is very much alive in me. I don’t have a choice whether to make music or not. It finds me when I turn away. It eats me up if I am not giving myself to it. So I give myself to it, and I hope that what comes out can be offered as the gift I have to give with my life, something that will help some people in some way, and I hope and try to trust that the gift will be reciprocal enough to keep me fueled and energized and fed. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. I keep finding my way. I haven’t figured it out yet. I DO have a choice about how much I am willing to sacrifice to continue making music, and I’ve found that I feel so strongly that I’m doing what I NEED to be doing that I’m willing to sacrifice a lot. I’m willing to live all the hardships of the year I have just lived. I am so grateful for everyone in my life who listens when I am bitter and makes sympathetic noises or confirms that it sounds hard or they see how hard I work. I am so grateful for everyone who buys a CD or a poster at a show even if they already have one, just to buy something, because they understand that the connection between their dollars and the gas I buy to get to the next show is direct and immediate. I am so grateful for every small affirmation that I have something to offer that is valuable to the world, even if it comes in the form of a dangling carrot. (It’s not a small thing to be asked to open for Colbie Caillat, even if it isn’t going to actually happen.) And I’m so grateful for every one of you that took the time to read all of this. You get it. You are so invaluable to the survival of art in the world. I LOVE you.
I have big dreams for 2015. See you out there, world. I won’t be staying home.