Historical Tellings from The Road #2; How I Met John Elliott

I left Portland in early January 2006, It was now late June the same year and I had yet to return. We made a crude circuitous route that included Arkansas and Boston, Montana, Colorado, California to Texas and back through Colorado to Lake Tahoe (i’ll make a map someday). The personnel had shifted a few times and now I was traveling alone. I had dropped off a few friends at the Rainbow Gathering and was now planning a 3 day solo camping adventure in Tahoe before playing the High Sierra Music Festival for the first time. It was a big gig for me. My young self had visions of grandeur, still not unspoilt from 6 sticky months on the long road playing fried chicken joints, unpopulated coffee shops, and dive bars.

I drove twice around the otherworldly blue of Lake Tahoe. There wasn’t a single campground less than $35 a night. A king’s ransom. When not fed by the venue I was playing, I was subsisting mostly on canned tuna with avocado and spinach, apples and Clif bars. $35 was a bit less than a week’s worth of food. I asked a park ranger if there were any free campgrounds. She told me about Blackwood Canyon. It was unmarked, 3 miles down a dirt road. I miraculously found the road and after a minute I was being closely followed by a green Honda civic.

I found a lovely spot amidst ponderosa and lodgepole pine. I stepped out of my van just as the guy in the civic stepped out. He sauntered over, smiled and quickly it came out that we were both songwriters. “Shit” i thought “the last thing i want right now is to be around another songwriter! I just wanted some solo time.” I found out later that he was thinking the same thing.

He had just started his first tour as I was just finishing mine. We avoided each other for the first night but on the second night we shared a fire and a meal. We laughed and talked easily. I guessed his sign incorrectly. He sang a song. I loved it. I sang a song. He seemed to like it. We stayed up late in the night and talked by the fire with the familiarity of childhood friends.

The next evening we decided to go to a Casino on the Nevada side of the lake. I had never been to one before. I spent $5 and hated it. John won enough playing blackjack to buy us both dinner. We went to a Mexican restaurant and while we were there, it poured torrential rain. Neither of us had showered in days.

We traded albums and I listened to his constantly. I wore a tube top at one my sets at the High Sierra Music Festival that week and my boob popped out. I’ve never sold so many CDs at one show before or since. (Little did i know that my future husband was attending the very same festival and we wouldn’t meet till 2009!) I went to John’s show in Portland the following week. He was fantastic, full of sparks and thunder. A veritable bonfire of a performer. We decided to go on tour together the next year. I should’ve known he was a leo.

9ish years later and i still listen to that album all the time. We’ve made records together, toured the country, cried on one another’s shoulders, slept in the same bed but never kissed, and shared secrets even though I’m so bad at keeping them. John even served as one of the two officiants at my wedding.

The road gave me the brother i always wanted.

PS-most of this blog post was typed one handed while I breastfed Benny!

From the Water Canyon in Joshua Tree, CA in 2007?


How we found Hopi Ophelia

I used to own a white 1998 Dodge Grand Caravan named Brenda Jo Stevens. Brenda had a plywood bed built in the back of her with locking compartments for gear, thanks to my daddy. I put about 150k miles on her before i sent her off with two Mexican dudes, who planned to fix her up and give her a new life south of the border.

I slept many incredibly cozy nights with Brenda Jo in Wallmart and Wafflehouse parking lots, as well as campgrounds and neighborhood streets. The sketchiest place we ever temporarily called home was in Yuma, AZ. I slept for about 5 hours before moving on. Yuma is not a city i would care to sleep in again.  I wish i had more photos of Brenda Jo and her entire set up, but my computer died after downloading a year’s worth of tour photos once. Such is life.

In 2007, i went on one particular tour with John Elliott and Howard on support, from Texas through the Southwest, up through California, to Portland and back to Austin. It was April, or May if i do recall clearly. We played in Taos for $150 and a couple of green chili & turkey burritos (oh, green chili, how i love thee) and then left right after the gig because Howard had read about ancient ruins outside of Phoenix, Arizona, which was where our gig was the following evening. He offered to drive through the night, he wanted to visit them that badly. John and i slept in the back, bumped about by the New Mexican roads, in bad need of repair. Brenda Jo arrived at 6am. I awoke to Howard “Hey Raina, i found a dog”. I shot straight out of bed and said “THAT’S MY DOG”. The dreamiest pink and orange sunrise on the horizon of dusty Arizona mountains, saguaro cactus flowers all in bloom.

A few months prior to this, i had begged a puppy off a homeless dude at the old BouldiN Creek Cafe in Austin. The guy was pretty messed up and that puppy was precious. I grew up with dogs, and i desperately wanted a four-legged tour buddy. My Chinese astrology sign is the Dog. I am a dog person, deep down and through. I named the puppy Motown and carried him around for a few weeks in a makeshift baby carrier. Later, i ran into the homeless guy again at the Kerrville Family Tuesday night hang, the open mic at Trophy’s; a truly shitty dive bar that no longer exists. He had been bereft without the pup and needed the him back. I acquiesced. Years later, i was to find out that the puppy was hit by a car and killed mere weeks after i gave him back.

Hopi was tied to a tree behind the cultural center near the ruins, where one acquires a parking pass to visit the ancient city. She was covered in ticks, thirsty and starving. She was so much more than happy to see us. We gave her water and some granola, which was all we had in the van at that moment. We spent about 2 hours pulling ticks off of her, they were in her ears, all over her back and even between the pads on her paws. After her makeshift grooming session, we put her in the van and her life as a FolkHound began. In Phoenix, i took her to the Vet who gave her a few shots and a clean bill of health and then barely charged me after i promised to take care of her. How could i not make such an easy promise? This dog was my soul mate, my familiar, my new best friend.

Hopi Ophelia Desert Rose has seen more states than most people, she has enough self control as to refrain from eating a burrito sitting unwrapped in the cup holder of a van, she is the more patient than any of us with her new little brothers, she is kind with everyone except squirrels.  The best road find ever.

epic hopi in arches

Live from the Taconic State Parkway

We are driving through a downpour in my sister’s Subaru on the Taconic State Parkway. Last night we played in a corner of the Down the Road Cafe in the admissions building of Bard college. I first played this gig in the spring of 2006 thanks to my old camp friend, Rachel. When she booked me at her school it was the impetus for the crazy 6 month cross country tour that I naively embarked upon just before my 24th birthday. Now 7 years later, it’s a small bit of welcomed consistency. Funny.
Anyway, the road just started and Emmett is a champ. Poor kid has managed to still dance every time he hears music even though his sleep has been interrupted two nights in a row. After today’s drive through upstate New York and western Mass to the sweet farm we are playing in New Hampshire, Emmett will have been to over 25 states. It’s a bizarro life. I often wonder if he will remember any small dreamy fragments of this time. What stories will he tell his children? Hard to imagine your almost 18 month old baby as a grown man with his own children, but as everyone says and as I have experienced, it goes with the quickness of a mighty river. Life never stands still for even a breath.

Also, it’s just started to snow.

Spring Tour

Emmett has been all over. He’s been to more states than most grown-ups and Canada too. Last summer we did about 10,000 miles and managed to not lose our minds entirely. This year we are taking it a bit easier, as Emmett has greater mobility and force of will than last year. We have an almost 18 month old dude on our hands who would much rather play in a bucket of water all day than sit in a minivan. I can’t blame him.

So we are about to leave on our first ten day tour adventure. This week we will fly to my sister, Marisa’s house in Philly (check out her amazing blog> food in jars), then drive to Bard College in up-state NY, then to a farm in NH, then to Cape Cod to play this amazing house concert called No Place Special, then to Long Island for another fantastic house concert. Then a day off at my sister’s high rise in Philly, the place i have longest known, my grandmother’s apartment that my sister inherited around 10 years ago. We used to spend sweltering summer days here when i was young. My beautiful fake-eye-lashed grandmother, Tutu we called her, would take us to the Please Touch museum and Betsy Ross’s house and to the liberty bell. Even with my sister’s long residence, the apartment has held onto Tutu’s scent and in an instant i am always transported to my childhood. Thanks to Rebecca Loebe, Marisa’s house has now been dubbed The Urban Food Sanctuary, as she has delicious cheeses, jams, and physical manifestations of recipes you’d see on some fancy lady’s pinterest board. Right, then a gig in Brooklyn and a house concert in Philly… and then NASHVILLE.

The Folk Documentary is premiering at the Nasvhille Film Festival on April 19th and we get to walk a red carpet and be a part of it! I’ve never been in any sort of film before, so i am pretty thrilled. Before my dreams of folk stardom, i always wanted to be an actress a la Julie Andrews or Bette Midler. Not the cool actress, but the one who could really sing.

So, how does one tour with a baby? You may ask… The truth is, i’m not really sure there’s a cut and dry answer, you just move slowly, breathe deeply and know that at some point you’ll be home. Here’s a list of things that make musical parenthood better:

  • It’s easiest if you have help. This past summer, our dear friend Jaime donated her time to our tour in exchange for coffee, food & travel. We had a dedicated baby lover on hand during shows. It was fantastic. If you can convince a grandparent or bored friend to come along on your tour, that is the way to go.
  • Spend the money on the hotel. I have never regretted getting a hotel room. I used to sleep in my car in waffle house parking lots, but ladies & gentlemen i have moved up in the world and now the priceline app finds us a bed. it’s worth it. Hotels are moderately baby proofed and a space for a little person to run around with abandon is priceless.
  • Snacks, Books, Toys, Phone loaded with Thomas the Tank Engine. Anything that gives you a moment of brain space, feel no shame about using it. Emmett loves eating cheerios one at a time… it’s an easy way to avoid utter meltdown.
  • It’s going to be ok. A show lasts around 2 hours usually. As a mommy, it’s painfully hard to hear your baby cry, it’s painfully hard to know that baby is struggling and you’re not there to sooth him. But as long as the little person has a competent caregiver while you’re playing, it’s going to be ok.
  • Unload, Explode, Hit the road. The best thing about having a baby on tour is that no one expects you to stay up after your show, get drunk and jam all night. Other folksingers may agree that often the most exhausting thing about a show is the socializing post gig. Not to say that i haven’t met some of my favorite people at the merch table and i don’t DEEPLY appreciate getting to know the audience, but if you’re doing it right, you’re pretty beat after playing your heart out all night. Post gig with a baby is way quicker. People understand your tiredness because they have a concept of it. Tour exhaustion is hard to grasp unless you’ve been there.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you and your family are out there creating art and following your muse down into the darkness of the next town, you are doing something really brave and good for the world. You are sharing your love with people. Your kids will see you believing in yourself and thereby believe in themselves. You are modeling good behavior by being so damn true to your heart.

That’s what i got right now. It’s 11:33 pm and Emmett will wake up at 7:45am no matter what i do. Pictures of the packing process will be here on tuesday. thanks for reading!


Some days i’m not sure i can do it. Taking care of an enthusiastic, bright, and beautiful toddler takes all my energy most of the time. Even with my focused partner. This. Is. Hard.

We have two 14 day tours booked in the upcoming future. April on the east coast and May on the west coast. i am honestly terrified about those two tours. Emmett is still nursing to sleep and most shows start right at his bedtime. He requires most of the day time to run in circles, and explore his environment, most tours (even the most thoughtfully booked) require at least 3 hours of travel time a day. At LEAST.

I often wonder if it’s worth the uphill push it requires being a mommy-musician. It is obvious which title would get the back burner. I never attended a day of college so my options are limited in terms of finding another job; i am trained for nothing. I have worked at summer camp, at a preschool, as a nanny and then as an itinerant musician. While i have adored doing all these things, they certainly aren’t jobs that inspire a banker to give you a mortgage. But it’s less about the unsteady pay (i have often said that music is not a great living but it’s a wonderful life) and more about the exhaustion. It takes all my energy to write a song a week while building block towers and attempting to educate, clean and shove some vegetables down my son’s throat. And i’m pretty sure he’s an easy baby. And i’d like to have another in the next few years! what am i, insane?

No, i’m not crazy, i’m just trying to live an authentic life. I always wanted to be a mother and i always wanted to be a musician. As much exhaustive & unsure work as it is, i still don’t see a reason i can’t do both. I hope that my child/ren look at their mother and see someone who gave to them and herself all she had. I think it’s important that our kids see us attempt at things we love, stumble or stride and still feel good about ourselves.

but godamn i could use a day in a spa or something. or a bigass tour bus with beds instead of a minivan.

Home for a few days

We have been home from Toronto for a few days now.  The weather is perfect.  Emmett is running around like a lunatic, making stacks of blocks and destroying them and saying all kinds of interesting things.  Raina and I are enjoying downtime at home before the chaos of the spring starts.

This week has been spent almost entirely together.  We haven’t really left the house much, except for some errands, dinner at a friend’s house and a nice hang at the Once Over Coffee Bar yesterday.  It seems to be easiest to exist at home with Emmett these days.  He is no longer interested in being held for more than a few minutes at a time.  Running around is far more important.

Next week I will do a 6 night tour with Nancy & Beth.  We are playing Largo in Los Angeles on March 6 (opening for Rhett Miller), The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA on March 8 and the Wilbur Theater in Boston, MA on March 10.

Then I fly back to Austin for 4 nights of SXSW (overcrowded indie rock party that takes over the entirety of Austin, TX). I have about 6 or so gigs and parties to attend.  Lots of friends are coming to town to play shows.  My parents will be here helping with Emmett, which is a huge relief for me and Raina.

Then I fly back to Los Angeles for the night of March 15 to play at Largo with Nancy & Beth.  I’ll be back in Austin before noon on March 16 to play a couple of afternoon gigs and see a few other shows before SXSW closes down.  After that, throw in a quick trip to Houston, a recording session and an SF trip.  I’m already so tired of the airport and I haven’t even packed yet.

It’s going to be a pretty insane couple of weeks.  I will literally fly all over the country.  I will spend 7 of those nights away from Raina and Emmett.  That is definitely the most challenging part of my job.  It puts a strange tax on the entire family.  Emmett is too young for me to explain that I’m even leaving.  I just get out of the car at the airport and show back up a week later.  I wonder what goes through his mind.  Is he wondering where I am?  Is he waiting for me to get back?  Does he even notice I’m gone?

Raina is amazing.  She handles parenting without me like a champ.  She has high morale.  She has amazing patience.  Her comfort in the situation shows Emmett that there is nothing to worry about.  Papa will be home soon.  So he seems to go about his business building block stacks and knocking them down, eating yogurt and sweet potatoes, climbing on Hopi (our dog) and saying fascinating nonsense.

This will be a good trip, though.  The shows are at excellent venues.  The band is sounding great.  The people are some of my favorites.  But I will miss my boy and my lady.  I will think about them constantly when I am sitting, waiting for the next show to start.

4 days in Toronto

We bundled up the family and took a cab to the airport at 4:45 am on wednesday. Hardly even the morning if you ask me. After a lovely stop in Newark, we landed in Toronto where it was literally 55 degrees colder than sunny Austin, TX. It was all of our first time in Ontario.

The International Folk Alliance is an annual gathering of some of the most hungry, hard working, talented unknown folksingers/folk musicians in the world along with agents, managers, venue owners, house concert hosts and appreciators. Everyone holes up in a fancier-than-normal hotel and goes at it for 4 days and nights. In my younger years i’d have drunk my fill of Irish whisky and stayed up the entire time, singing songs with my folk brethren. This is the second year i’ve attended this shindig as a mommy and my brain is woefully divided, however still happily appeased.

Andrew hosted a showcase room with the imitable Steve Poltz (co-writer of Jewel’s hit “You Were Meant For Me” as well as the guy in the video, he is Oh so much more!) and we brought along Andrew’s parents to help with Emmett. Emmett was a champ and only had a hard time at night when i would nurse him to sleep at a reasonable hour, then wake up and be unsatisfied with anyone, except Thomas the Train until i showed up again, often very late. It’s still very hard for me to leave the baby for more than a few hours. He’s a phantom limb that tingles wildly in my brain. I think i said “I’ve got to go find my baby” more than “our new album Caldera comes out this year and i think it’s pretty good”.

Maybe i could have schmoozed more, maybe i could have played more songs, maybe i could have tried to accomplish the many career goals that are a scant half inch above my head; major festival bookings, enormous booking agent, fancy pants manager guy, famous colleagues… but the truth is, i heard just enough songs by some of my most favorite folk friends, i played my heart out every time i picked up the guitar, and i met some amazing people. i did the best i could do and i feel ever more re-connected to this crazy job. thank goodness there are all these glorious glowing people out there doing it as well.


i heart Nels Andrews! he wrote this gorgeous lovesong called Wisteria and sang it at our wedding


3 Penny Acre playing their official showcase


Canadian legend Corin Raymond sweating music



The Sea, The Sea slaying with gorgeousness


us at our official showcase! photo by Anna Vogelzang


my delicious bestie Rebecca Loebe. photo by Mary Granata


i heart the Birds of Chicago


Aj Roach & Nuala Kennedy. (hey you guys, move to texas!!)


mellow afternoon set with Rebecca Loebe and Andrew


thumbs up from Andrew, Matt The Electrician & Joey Ryan of the Milk Carton Kids


Dar Williams. such a great show!


lastly, Andrew & Steve Poltz rocking so hard they were blurry



It’s only 20 degrees in Toronto

Tomorrow at 6am the whole Fam jumps on a jet plane to Toronto, ON to take part in the Folk Alliance International, a four day melange of the world’s folk musicians and business people. “Folk conference?!” You say, “yes!” I reply. Every trade has its conference and folk is no different, ours just happens to be a huge party with music overflowing the hallways morning and night. We’ve been meeting in Memphis for the last 7 years and now we are in Toronto. In February. A beautiful time to be in Canada. Brrrrr.
I don’t think we have enough warm clothing. It’s in the 70’s in Austin. I’ll let you know how it goes and post pics when I have them!

Langlois, Oregon

Papa here,

I’ve been on the road, playing bass with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers. I left Emmett and Raina on January 30 and flew to San Francisco. I rehearsed 1.5 times and played my first gig the following night in Sacramento, where I used to live.

It went so well. The venue was packed. I spent a lot of time learning the material. It paid off. I was way comfortable at the first gig. I had a lot of fun.

We’ve done 9 gigs since then. We drove from SF to Vancouver. The shows have been great. The band is a lot of fun.

Our last gig is tonight, in Langlois, Oregon. We start in about an hour. I am currently sitting in the van outside the venue, which is an old barn.

We head to SF tomorrow. I fly home to Austin on Friday. I am so excited to see my baby boy and raina. It’s crazy. I haven’t been gone from either of them for this long since before Raina was even pregnant.

I’m sure Emmett is a totally different dude now. I’m sure he has better balance. His hair is longer. He is probably standing straighter and walking faster. Mind-blowing.

Friday afternoon can’t come quickly enough. This has been a great tour. But I am ready to get back to my lady and my tiny dude.

Edom, TX

We drove for about four hours to the Northeast of Austin today. Andrew and I are a part of Carrie Elkin’s Greats. Carrie Elkin is a firecracker songwriter who is a pillar of the folk nation community. She and her partner, Danny Schmidt, host a slew of traveling folksingers in their home in east Austin. They are amazing.
Here’s a picture of the men’s at the Firehouse in Edom, tx.