So, as I was prepping for my Spring tour, I was reflecting on a lot of cool experiences I had on the road last year.
Here's one that moved me deeply,
I thought I should share.
A little under three years ago, I received a nice e-mail from a budding young songwriter from Washington State named Aaron Huff. He had just wanted to let me know he had mentioned my name in an interview he had done, citing me as one of his musical influences, based on my "sincerity".
I wrote him back an e-mail to express my gratitude, and that was pretty much it. I suppose it was a little unusual for the conversation to end there, but it did. Usually such a chat might end up with a request to do shows together, or my answering questions as a music business "mentor". But he lived in a town I didn't travel to, and besides, he seemed only to want to give me a little compliment.
Nice guy, I thought.
Fast forward to last winter, and I was checking my Facebook, and occasionally, I admit, I am a creeper like the rest of humanity, and I peruse my news feed to see who's having more fun than I am. I stumbled into the words "I'm so sorry" on Aaron's wall, but not written by him. I started digging and discovered he had been in a car accident. A bad one. (an oncoming driver had bent down to pick up a piece of paper and swerved his car across a two lane highway) Aaron hadn't survived. Reading on, I found out his wife was due to have his first child any day. Then I read back to his last living Facebook posts, about how excited he was to be a father. More than excited. It was like he couldn't wait. He had just painted the baby room.
I felt the floor drop from under me.
Do you know that spontaneous feeling of helplessness that claws in your conscience? It doesn't always happen, but once in awhile, your heart goes into 'red alert' status, which only compounds the frustration that there is absolutely nothing you can do to help.
Now as a disclaimer, I should say I KNOW I spend too much time thinking about myself, promoting my own name, and I will also admit I have sometimes taken advantage of whatever small amount of prestige a career in music might afford. I never intended to share this story, only because it was intense, personal and all too real. But as months have passed, I see those same emotions as reasons TO share it. It is human.
But please note, I DON'T mean it to be self congratulatory in any way.
With that being said, I immediately decided to reach out to Aaron's wife and immediate family to see if I could set up a tribute concert to him. I would fly myself out to Washington State and back to Boston, on my dime, and play a concert in Aaron's honor.
Then I had second thoughts: Whatever I'd be able to offer might be trivial to them. They've just been through grief's darkest hours and I'm a frivolous musician. Besides, I'm not exactly a Maroon 5, who can just crash any wedding and have every guest shake, cry, smile, high five, etc... I realize no one is accusing me of being a household name. But then I gambled, maybe the illusionary nature of my job would imply just enough fame that my going there to perform might be a happy distraction. A break from grief. I contacted Aaron's wife Melanie, as well as his brother Adam, who were both more receptive to the idea than I expected.
Turns out Adam, like Aaron,was a musician.
It was he who had initially discovered me, and shared my music with his brother. He could even play some of my songs. "Could my band back you up for the concert" he asked? "That sounds brilliant to me! "I replied. Turns out the Huffs are a huge family (Aaron was the 10th of 12 children) very musical, and beautifully close to one another.
So I flew in at the tail end of my Spring tour on May 25, 2014. I played a show in Seattle, then drove to Chewelah, WA, Aaron's hometown.
I must admit, as I was driving to the concert, I had intense doubts, "What the hell am I doing? I'm about to meet an entire crowd of people that have been devastated by a great loss, of someone remarkable, and I don't know even one of them. You're not up to this... What if it gets super emotional, then what?" Then I countered my negativity, "Just focus on doing a good job, put on a show. Believe that music has a healing power." These were the thoughts flowing through my head that day.
I finally settled on just simply playing to honor Aaron.
As I pulled in to what was the equivalent of a town square/state park, the first image I was struck by was a young mother walking around the park proudly cradling a baby like a trophy in her arms. I can't overstate how much beauty I saw in this image, her resilience combined with what I projected to be her sadness, combined with the aura of a kind person being an attentive mother. "Hi I'm Melanie, this is Aaron's boy"............... she was writing a book (now published), and is a classically trained dancer.
One by one, people close to Aaron approached me. Some thanked me for coming, many knew my songs, most probably didn't. I met the band, of which two members were Aaron's brothers. Both of them had fierce senses of humor, which put me immediately at ease. I totally "got " them, which means I got the family, and I was right where I should be, I thought.
The show went off without a hitch for a couple hundred people in the small town amphitheater. I did a solo set, and then I called on the band. I told a few jokes, and we jammed recklessly , and it was great. There were no speeches, and no emotional breakdowns.
Just music and joy.
Afterwards, I stuck around and signed cd's or postcards, or whatever I happened to bring, and chatted with everybody. The best part was I heard stories about Aaron, how wonderful he was, how loving he was, how he would've cherished my being there, how music meant the world to him. At that moment, he felt very much alive to me.
Afterwards, we all went to a Huff family barbecue, where I had the most delectable homemade plum barbecue sauce. Aaron's mom made it from scratch, and I couldn't stop raving about it. I sat next to her and chatted. Her smile told a fighter's story: A fighter who loved all of her children intensely, a fighter who would laugh in the face of sadness, a fighter who will carry on. She was amazingly candid with me. All of the Huff's had a "we can cut the bullshit and get real" conversational style, which I love. They all treated me like family.
Imagine that, a few hours earlier we had been strangers, now we were family.
I forget where I had to be, but I had to leave soon after that, and as I was driving away with the sun setting behind me, I felt a strange sense of relief, similar to a "mission accomplished" feeling, even though I wasn't quite sure what the mission was. I supposed the concert had been a happy distraction. I know for sure that my heart was overflowing. I don't remember the airport, or the flight home, but a couple weeks ago I opened up a huge gift box from Chewelah, Washington. It was homemade plum barbecue sauce from Aaron's mom. It's sweetness made the seemingly endless Boston winter less dreary.
There are good people everywhere, and none of us know why we are here on this big blue ball, but maybe the beauty of it all lies in our connection to one another.
NEW RECORD, NEW VIDEO, NEW TOUR
In other news, I have been working on a new record in Boston, and have randomly chosen June 4 as the projected release date. We are about 9 songs in, so I'm going to try to keep it to 12 songs maximum this time. To me, it sounds really good so far, but I may be a bit biased.
I also just shot a video as well, but I have yet to see the footage. I asked the director to super-impose Brad Pitt's face on my body. If he can't get that done, I'm scrapping it.
But mostly, it's touring season, so I hope to see your kind faces soon. Till then, I'll be shoveling...
Melanie Rose Books on Amazon